While Not Without Some Compelling Moments; This ‘Allure’ Wears Thin

That need to be desired can be a destructive and often dangerous thing…

Allure (Formerly A Worthy Companion) shines a light on the very flawed nature of desire and obsession and how the need to be ‘wanted’ can be the most self destructive of all and while there is certainly some promise in this effort from these debut filmmakers, it leans a little too heavily on its style when it truly needed to find a little more substance.

Laura (Evan Rachel Wood) spends her days working as a house cleaner for her father’s company but her personal life takes her into some rather unseemly places.  It’s an existence filled with rough edges as she’s looking for love and something she feels she needs to complete herself in all the wrongs places. With her self-destructive and often heartbreaking behavior pointing to abuse in her past, she is simply unable to overcome it all. One day on the job, Laura meets Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), a quiet teenager unhappy with her disciplined life. In Eva, Laura rediscovers an innocent tenderness that she has seemingly longed for all her life and in Laura, Eva finds a thrilling rebel who can bring her into unknown territories finally living the life she has long to experience for her very own. The mutual attraction soon morphs into obsession as Laura convinces Eva to run away and secretly come live with her, perilously raising the stakes for the young, impressionable girl as Laura’s emotional instability becomes increasingly clear. With worlds closing in for both of them, they both have to find some cold hard truths about themselves in order to find a way out.

The debut effort from the writing and directing team of Carlos and Jason Sanchez; Allure does try to tackle some genuine issues surrounding abuse and the societal need and borderline sickness to be ‘loved’ by any means necessary, even if it’s violent sex or emotional manipulation.  But while the film manages to paint some very attractive looking tableaus, it really needed to focus more on providing an emotional depth of field rather than just a glossy overtone.

While this duo of brothers certainly have an eye for creating some dark and powerful shots, using light and shadow to maximum effect, they fall into a classic trap that many first time filmmakers often do.  Allure looks really great, but they are using style to mask a messy exploration into substance.  The two female leads while compelling are kind of poorly defined from a character standpoint, and while I’ll admit that was probably their point, it made it hard to get behind either of these people as sympathetic even though they more or less acknowledge the sicknesses that they struggle with.  It buys far too readily into the tired archetype that “We all just need someone to love” and makes the ultimate revelation of needing to love ourselves in spite of any outward influences on our lives feel clunky and way more dramatic then it needed to be.  The material does take some effective swipes at the core of some of these problems with decent results but it never allows us to ‘get there’ emotionally and we are instead dragged there by some admittedly strong performances.

Whatever the Sanchez brothers couldn’t quite pull off, Evan Rachel Wood gives an incredibly strong and ferocious performance as Laura, a woman on the brink of her own sanity trying to find a way to stay grounded in spite of her passionate instincts that bring her into situations that only end up harming her.  It’s an incredibly self-aware performance as she plays a woman who is very cognizant of why her life is always on the brink of falling apart.  Julia Sarah Stone does well beside her as the angelic and naive muse to this delusion that she slowly learns she is both a victim of and a party to at the exact same time.  Denis O’Hare is a consistently underrated character actor and here as Laura’s father (who may or may not have been a party some earlier abuses in Laura’s life) makes for a heartbreaking and perhaps the most compelling character in the film as he lives past the denials of Laura’s life and makes the character work as both hero and victim.

Ultimately that’s kind of the whole point of Allure.  There’s no right or wrong answer on how to live your life, especially in the wake of any kind of genuine abuse, but you do need to sit in the middle of it until you can find the way out on your own…and that’s how you truly heal.  The film comes close to that and qualifies as a noble yet failed mediation on the subject.

Allure opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this Friday April 6th in Toronto.