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Review: Allure, Starring Evan Rachel Wood, a Relentless Depiction of Abuse Not for the Faint of Heart

3 out of 5 stars.

Evan Rachel Wood as Laura in "Allure"

Evan Rachel Wood. image: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Evan Rachel Wood has recently taken the fight against abusers to Congress, where she testified in favor of an expanded Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights, sharing her own history of abuse and assault. Which makes her most recent film project all the more incongruous…or perhaps not. Wood stars in a new film out today called Allure.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Laura (Evan Rachel Wood) works as a house cleaner for her father’s company but her personal life is not so pristine. Rough around the edges, looking for love in all the wrong places, her heartbreaking behavior points to hardships of the past. One day on the job, in yet another house, Laura meets Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), a quiet teenager unhappy with her disciplined life. In Eva, Laura rediscovers an innocent tenderness. In Laura, Eva finds a thrilling rebel who can bring her into unknown territories. 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. As their world closes in, they must unearth certain truths to find a way out.

The synopsis is actually a bit misleading, especially where it calls their attraction “mutual.” If that’s what first-time filmmakers Carlos and Jason Sanchez (who also wrote the script) were going for, that’s not what I saw in the film at all. Certainly not in the beginning of Laura and Eva’s relationship.

What the film is actually about is Eva grooming and eventually manipulating a teenage girl into coming to live with her, setting off an exploitative and sexually abusive relationship.

It paints an accurate picture of what abuse looks like: the slow burn as the predator gains the victim’s trust, playing on insecurities in order to do it; the manipulation; and ultimately, their expectations of their victim once they’ve lured them, and the inevitable fallout when those expectations aren’t met.

Also hauntingly captured is the way in which a victim becomes manipulated. We watch in horror as Eva attempts to leave, or has the opportunity to leave several times…but doesn’t, for reasons left unspoken, but deeply felt. For those who wonder “Why didn’t she just leave?”, this film shows you the heartbreaking reasons why, even if specific reasons are never named. We see how Eva goes from being a rebellious teen following the “cool, older girl,” to terrified, to coping as best she can, by appeasing Laura and making the best of a terrible and vulnerable situation.

Lastly, the film is a portrait of the cycle of abuse, as we come to learn that Laura is simply repeating patterns she learned elsewhere. Both of these women are in pain, and Laura is shown as both predator and victim.

Julia Sarah Stone as Eva in "Allure"

Julia Sarah Stone. image: Samuel Goldwyn Films

First, I need to mention the absolutely brilliant performances from both Wood and Julia Sarah Stone as Eva. Wood, as usual, is absolutely fearless in this performance, walking a very thin tightrope between being a monster, and being a former abuse victim who has internalized the abuse as a form of love and protection.

And Stone was a revelation. One of the reasons I don’t buy that there was ever any real “mutual attraction” that wasn’t just Stockholm Syndrome is because Stone’s performance was so clear and so strong. You saw every emotion on her face and in her body, and so much of what she conveyed was outside of her dialogue. Confusion, terror, deep, deep sadness…Stone as Eva was a walking live wire of emotions that will have the viewer’s heart beating faster for her safety and well-being.

So, in this wayin its brilliant casting, and as an accurate, heartbreaking portrayal of a cycle of abuse—Allure was successful.

Where it was less successful to me was as a satisfying movie-going experience. Nearly two hours long, it’s a long time to spend watching Wood relentlessly be abusive. Normally, I love a good slow burn, but the pacing of the film was so slow (I’m sure to show just how insidiously predatory behavior can begin), but provided no real plot or point of view. It just seemed like a non-stop parade of vignettes where Laura is either giving, or receiving abuse. It was relentless.

I don’t need my films to be all cheerful fun, but especially with a film like this that’s dealing with An Issue, I expect there to be a strong plot, and places that contrast in tone for breathing space. The film didn’t seem to have anything to say except “abuse is cyclical” which, true, but what about that? I think the filmmakers were relying on the fact that their lead was a female character to be so compelling that we wouldn’t notice there was no actual story or point of view.

Allure may serve a purpose as an example of how abusive relationships work for those who need to understand. I watched the film with someone I know who was in a similarly abusive relationship in the past, and they nodded in agreement at just about everything, prompting lots of discussion afterwards. So, this isn’t the kind of movie you’d watch if you “want to watch a good movie,” but it could be a tool in helping survivors of abuse convey their stories and truth to people in their lives.

I suppose there are worse things for a film to be than an educational conversation starter. However, Allure is a difficult, and ultimately, an unsatisfying watch as a film.

Allure is out TODAY.

(image: Samuel Goldwyn Films)

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