Crush Review

Rotorua, New Zealand. Christina (Donogh Rees) is on the way to interview novelist Colin Iseman (William Zappa). With her is her American friend Lane (Marcia Gay Harden). The car goes off the road. Christina is badly injured, while Lane walks away. She turns up herself at Colin’s house, and proceeds to inveigle herself not just into his life but that of her teenage daughter Angela (Caitlin Bossley)…

Crush, Alison Maclean’s feature debut, co-written with Anne Kennedy, is a disturbing film with a brooding atmosphere, full of barely-glimpsed and hinted-at undercurrents. It’s certainly a flawed work – the pacing in the mid-section is off, and a subplot involving Maori singer Horse (Pete Smith) could easily have been removed. But it’s a hard film to shake off, pushing off in directions that are uncomfortable but also blackly funny. It’s a variation on the theme of Pasolini’s Theorem, where an alluring but ambiguous stranger seduces a family in turn.

Of the four leads, Colin is the least interesting character, so the film becomes a three-way drama between the women. At the centre is Lane, an antiheroine played with relish by the often-underused Marcia Gay Harden. Sexually fearless and ambiguous (there are plenty of hints that she is bisexual), she proceeds to seduce both Colin (literally) and Angela (non-literally). It’s left open as to whether or not Lane and Christina were ever lovers, but there’s an intensity and closeness between them that’s obvious in the opening scene, and which does not go away.

Donogh Rees, an actress who has appeared more on stage and TV than in the cinema (though she has one lead role to her name, in the interesting non-success Constance from 1984), has the most difficult role. After the opening sequence she does not reappear until halfway through and her character is suffering the effects of severe brain damage from then onwards. She does the latter astonishing convincingly, in a fearless performance.

The third leg of the triangle is Angela (a debut performance by Caitlin Bossley). Fifteen years old, tall, and rather boyish, she’s at first dazzled by Lane, but later turns against her. She visits Christina in hospital and befriends her, but is unable to deal with what she stirs up., with tragic results. All three actresses are very good. William Zappa does his best, but his role is underwritten.

Maclean uses the landscape of Rotorua, all volcanic mud and geysers, very well, giving a strange, almost primeval atmosphere to the proceedings. The photography is the work of Australian DP Dion Beebe, in his feature debut – he’s since gone on to work with Jane Campion and Michael Mann, and won an Oscar for Memoirs of a Geisha. The film is close to being monochromatic in places, with slate-grey skies and muted colour, with often the red of Lane’s coat standing out.

Crush premiered at Cannes in 1992. Some did – as some will – found the film hard to take, but it did make most people look forward to what Maclean would do next. However, since then she’s made just one more feature, 1999’s Jesus’ Son. She has however been active on the small screen, directing episodes of Homicide and Sex in the City, not to mention the video for Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”.

Tartan’s DVD is encoded for Region 2 only. Crush bore a 15 certificate in the cinema, which was upped to an 18 for its video release. At the time of writing, the BBFC site does not indicate that the film has been recertified. This may be intended, as the checkdisc I was sent has a 15 stamped on it. Once this is confirmed I’ll update this review – not that this film is likely to have much appeal to teenagers.

The transfer is anamorphic, with thin black lines top and bottom, opened up very slightly from the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. There’s nothing much wrong with it – it’s intentionally muted and in places very darkly lit, but blacks are solid and shadow detail is fine.

The soundtrack is the original (analogue) Dolby Surround. The surround channel is used mainly for music (from JPS Experience and Anthony Partos) and ambient sounds. There are sixteen chapter stops.

The main extra is a commentary from Alison Maclean and Marcia Gay Harden. Although they excuse memory lapses on the eleven-year gap since making the film, there are few pauses. It’s an informative and sometimes funny commentary which is well worth listening to.

Also on the disc is an interview from Australian TV channel SBS’s The Movie Show, from 1993 (21:16). Alison Maclean is interviewed by critic Margaret Pomeranz. This does duplicate some of the material in the commentary, but it’s still worth watching. What comes over is how modest the director is, especially compared to other first-timers!

Also on the disc is the theatrical trailer (1:48) and a two-film Tartan trailer reel: The Proposition and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.

Crush was previously released in Australia by Madman Entertainment on an all-regions disc, as part of their “Director’s Suite” line. This edition seems to have the same transfer. It certainly has all the above extras (a different trailer reel, obviously) plus two additions. A stills gallery is minor, but the other is well worth having, Maclean’s earlier short film Kitchen Sink, a funny and macabre fourteen-minute black and white piece about a woman who tugs at a hair she finds in the plughole of her sink. The hair becomes thicker and turns into an umbilical cord…

Crush is a film that some will find hard to take, but it stays with you and rewards repeat viewings. Tartan’s DVD is perfectly good as far as it goes, though the inclusion of the short Kitchen Sink makes the Madman edition preferable, issues of price and region-coding notwithstanding.

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