“If you did bad things but don’t remember, are they still part of who you are?” That’s the central question troubling Jane (Abbie Cornish), a woman who, after years of repressed memories, begins to wonder what role she played in the massacre that resulted in the death of three of her family members.
Canadian director Ed Gass-Donnelly (“The Last Exorcism Part II“) opens “Lavender” with an ambitiously shot scene. It is 1985 and, inside a farmhouse, bloodied corpses lay on the floor, covered only by white sheets. Despite the chaos, everything around them is at a standstill. The police officers who raid the scene remain inert as the camera moves. For a moment, one feels like a witness to yet another Mannequin Challenge, the viral trend that took the internet by a storm in late 2016. Soon, however, we cut to the image of a young Jane sitting on the floor, her face covered in blood. She moves and stares at the camera with menacing eyes: is she a surviving witness, or did she take an active role in the deaths of her father, mother, and sister?
Twenty-five years later, Jane still has no memories of what happened in the farmhouse. She’s now the mother of young Alice (Lola Flanery), and her marriage to Alan (Diego Klattenhoff) is experiencing a rough patch. Many of their fights are triggered by Jane’s tendency to forget appointments and important dates, and she’s at times unresponsive to those around her. As a photographer, Jane’s strangely attracted to old and abandoned homes, their emptiness, she believes, serving as “epitaphs” of the previous inhabitants.
Running late to pick her daughter up at school, Jane suffers a car accident, while attempting to avoid running over a mysterious girl who appears in front of her car. The accident leaves her with partial amnesia but also starts a process of reconnection with her past. As she begins to learn about the fate of her family members, mysterious white boxes with red ribbons start appearing inside her locked car, outside her hospital room, or on her front door. Inside the boxes are small fragments of her past: a key, ballerina figures, a jack, photographs. Who is sending her those boxes? What do they represent?
Encouraged by the hospital psychiatrist Liam (Justin Long), she believes it’s time to go on a journey back to her old home, now under the care of her estranged uncle Patrick (Dermot Mulroney). “This really can’t hurt!”, Liam encourages her, a piece of advice that seems as odd as it’s untrue. As she explores her past and former home, expect a series of slow-motion sequences and hallucinatory scenes, where reality and fragments of one’s imagination are merged.
She hears noises and sees people, but the supernatural atmosphere the film hopes to create never truly causes a strong impression. As a heavily traumatized person attempting to comprehend her own life, Jane’s memories are understandably fuzzy. Much of her personal confusion, however, also plagues the story. More often than not, the close-ups of Jane’s face and the long silent moments in which the viewer stares into her eyes fail to communicate her troubles. What aims to evoke a meditative feeling, a contemplation of what goes inside Jane’s mind, results in a less-captivating final product instead. If, on the one hand, Cornish’s blank stares portray an absent-minded person well, they can also be interpreted as wooden dramatic delivery.
The cinematography by Brendan Steacy (also part of “The Last Exorcism Part II” team), evocative of both M. Night Shyamalan‘s films and “Children Of The Corn,” while seeking to create plastically beautiful scenes by exploring corn fields and the countryside, also feels fabricated, too perfectly arranged in an unnatural way. The string-heavy music score by Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld accompanies these images. It is a disconcerting and overpowering presence that wants to ensure it’s noticed. When all scenes are highlighted and prominent, however, no scenes are at all really prominent, and what could be a strong score becomes tiresome instead.
Striking similarities, both in theme and in technique, can be drawn to Chris Kentis and Laura Lau‘s “Silent House,” the remake of the Uruguayan film “La Casa Muda.” In both stories, where paranormality and psychology are merged, the women are physically unable to leave their homes until their issues are resolved and the family secrets revealed. Had we been able to witness character growth, perhaps this story would have been more successful at creating emotional connections and gripping sequences. The almost automatic nature with which family secrets are revealed, however, result in a quickly forgettable and emotionally empty experience. [C-]