Envy (2000) Movie Review

The basic thriller usually stays in its tight little confines - it vies with others in the genre for the most shocks and twists, leaving its characters as cardboard playthings. Sometimes though, as in the case of Envy (screened at the 2000 Boston Film Festival), the thrills are really a catalyst for something bigger. Director Julie Money's Australian feature veers slightly around the same old stuff and creates an interesting and new mix of character study, role reversal, and sexual politics.

The story is basic, but its presentation is tantalizingly off-kilter. Envy opens with a fragment from a scene that doesn't appear fully until the film's climax, a device reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh's The Limey. It whets the appetite, draws a little confusion, and sets up the possibility for unconventional storytelling. It's simple: A girl sits in a mall food court, looks at the camera, and then leaves.

The bulk of the setup is simple too - Kate (Linda Cropper), a married professional with a young son, spies a gorgeous young girl at the local pool, wearing what she believes is her stolen black dress. When the girl jumps in for a swim, Kate swipes it and bolts. When the beautiful Rachel (Anna Lise Phillips) and her two scuzzball friends come calling for the dress back, the results are brutal. The actions turn Kate's family upside-down, and stir in her a passionate revenge, combining a modern woman's power with a dangerous taste for retribution.

It's that change in Kate (or is it a change?) that gives Envy its step above normalcy, its extra set of layers that make it worth watching. Cropper, who reminds me of Janet McTeer, plays Kate as tough and calculated. We can sympathize when she explains to her oaf of a husband why rape doesn't have to include actual penetration, but we wonder how long she'll foolishly stalk her enemies. Cropper's got the load of carrying Envy, and she performs well, save for some overly earnest delivery here and there.

But is all this just about a missing dress? It's obviously much bigger, and in a framework that Kurosawa or Leigh would appreciate, it has to do with class structure. Kate's family lives in a broad, beautifully appointed home, complete with a stylish fountain/pool; Rachel's "family" lives in a shack in another part of town. Kate owns, and wears, at least two other black dresses, and even wears a negligee that looks exactly like that little dress; Rachel and friends seem to wear the same clothes each time we see them. While some of the comparisons do come across as simplistic (why is Rachel's group so inherently evil anyway?), they make for an exciting use of set design and wardrobe, providing an excellent set of rules to toy with.

Although Envy could easily have worked as a play, Money makes her study solely cinematic. She uses basic visual tricks of compressing time and space to heighten scares, alter points-of-view, and just keep things moving in general. And while some of the thrills are of the cheap Hollywood variety, Envy, as a whole, is not.

Tough titty.


Comments

Envy (2000) Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2000

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