This is the story of 30-year-old Laura (Eva Rachel Wood), a woman with a troubled past who befriends unhappy 16-year-old Eva (Julia Sarah Stone). Presenting herself as a friendly confidante, she encourages the teenager to runaway from home and stay at her house. It is not long before the older woman is forced to resort to emotionally exploitative tactics to make Eva stay, and a dysfunctional relationship of co-dependency, emotional and sexual, develops between the two women.
The inference of suffering is integral to writer and directors Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s drama. Just as the notion of man born of original sin, the need for conflict or provocation in storytelling casts it with its own form of inevitable anguish. Here it is a resource for Wood to lose herself within a compelling character and the two storytellers to construct a dark dramatic character study around.
In spite of her dubious manipulative tactics, Laura’s emphasis of ‘choice’ stresses the reality that suffering is not only individual, but communal. And as the story of the relationship with her father and Eva unfolds, the complex concept of liberation from individual, as well as communal suffering emerges to form a key philosophical theme of the drama. Whilst the famous line from Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion reads “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”, in the shadow of Allure, the tangled web is not solely woven through deception, but fractured relationships and a conflict of needs and a sense of happiness – the contentious nature of human relationships.
Confident in its restraint, this character study unfolds like an unsettling piece of music, the rhythm ominously ‘piano’ (soft) with occasional ‘forte’ (loud) peaks. It has that feel of a film that thwarts expression, a film one almost feels with the mind and the senses; a stifling experience that is disquieting, yet also evokes pathos. Wood delivers a performance of sustained conviction, yet acknowledgement should duly be paid to Stone and Denis O’Hare (Laura’s father) for their noteworthy and poised performances that are vital to the impression forged by Wood. The success of the film is in the reflection on suffering, to anchor the drama in the realm of ideas.
One of the most effective aspects of the Allure is the emphasis on Laura’s emotional and sexual needs, and how her relationship with Eva addresses the human tendency to turn a person into a possession; an object which fills one’s life. This touches upon perception and how one person sees another person within their interpersonal dynamic. In this type of story, there is typically that defining moment in which the camera will frame the predatory character watching their naïve prey. It is a single moment that ensures a feeling of completeness, or so it feels, capturing in a single sequence the pure visual spiritual essence of the story.
Allure is a film that demands the engagement of its audience: spectatorial lethargy is poison to the intent of this filmmaker. The overriding concern is whether it has anything new to express on the subject of abuse, yet we must keep in mind that one dimension of storytelling is about confronting the dark realities. It is not the sole responsibility of the filmmaker to offer commentary, or to make concluding statements. The strength of presence of storytelling and art is to humanise or familiarise even those realities that are not our own. Hence, Allure can only be exploitative of its subject if we its audience fail to engage and contemplate the insight into human nature that it offers. This is in spite of never being able to express the reality victims of abuse suffer, nor should it, as art is only a mirror to suffering.
The Canadian drama Allure is out in cinemas across the UK on Friday, May 18th.