The Good: Generally good acting, Moments of mood
The Bad: Impossible to suspend disbelief, Lousy character development, Ridiculous plot, Predictably bad young child acting
The Basics: The classic “suspense” film Flowers In The Attic is a pulpy movie that fails to deliver a movie of lasting significance or any true greatness.
It sometimes astonishes me the movies my wife likes but that I see through a more objective lens. I know she was shocked when, on our first date, I shared the movie Magnolia (reviewed here!) with her and I was surprised we were so compatible when she declared Knocked Up (reviewed here!) as one of her favorites (along with virtually every Will Ferrell movie). Now that we have been married for almost five years, though, there are very few surprises like that left. However, recently she surprised me by having us sit down and watch another of her favorite movies from her past, Flowers In The Attic.
Flowers In The Attic is a slow drama movie that features what has to be one of the worst mothers in cinematic history and a quasi-incestuous relationship between a brother and sister. The high point has to be the fact that Louise Fletcher is in the movie, though her character is hardly significantly differentiated from her iconic portrayal of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (reviewed here!). In Flowers In The Attic, director Jeffrey Bloom used good casting, but not terrific acting.
When her father dies, Cathy (his beloved daughter) goes into shock. Soon thereafter, her mother loses everything and Cathy, her brother Chris, and her young twin siblings Cory and Carrie are destitute and forced to move in with their Grandmother. Upon arriving at the palatial estate of her grandmother, Cathy and her siblings are told that her mother was disinherited by her grandfather because her mother and father were actually related. When Cathy’s mother married her uncle, her father left her penniless and now that she is broke again, her mother now wants to get back into the will. Cathy, Chris, Cory and Carrie are locked into a room in the grandmother’s house while their mother tries to get back into the good graces of her father.
As the days, weeks, and months go by, Cathy and her siblings struggle to survive. They are able to leave their room only to go up into the massive attic, which Cory and Carrie use to escape reality. Cathy pushes back against her mother and grandmother and, as a result, the grandmother stops feeding her prisoners. The lack of adequate nutrition leaves Cory sick and an escape attempt by Cathy and Chris fails utterly. When Cathy and Chris learn that their mother is not rescuing the children after her father finally dies, they discover the truth of their incarceration and the deeper horror of their situation.
Flowers In The Attic is a movie that takes a long time to get going and when it finally does, it goes someplace exceptionally dull for the longest time. While it is classified as a suspense film, there is truly only one moment of real suspense in the movie (when Cathy and Chris try to escape through the bars in the attic). Outside that incident, much of the movie is just waiting. There is a mild mystery – how Cory gets weak and who is actually putting him in real peril – but the “mystery” is virtually inconsequential. It does not matter if the mother, grandmother, or butler is powdering the doughnuts that Chris eventually realizes contain arsenic. Which one of the captors is the worst is minutiae; all the people in the house who know the children are being kept prisoner are reprehensible.
The film lacks a sense of subtlety in everything but the incestuous sibling subplot. While this review is solely of the film Flowers In The Attic, my wife read the book and mentioned that in the novel, the older two siblings do initiate a sexual relationship. In the film, there are moments of implication that they have more than just a familial relationship, but it is never fully realized. However, when the grandmother catches Cathy and Chris sleeping in the same bed and Chris talking to Cathy while she is in the bathtub, a full sexual relationship is not executed in the movie. The undertone, however, is plenty creepy.
But the undertone is enough to question much of the basic premise of Flowers In The Attic. If the grandmother has such a serious bugaboo about the incest in her own family, why would she put two pubescent teenagers together, locked away from the world with no one to depend upon but one another?! She’s pretty much tempting bad fate and then punishing them for relying upon one another (because in the film, that’s all they actually do explicitly).
The acting in Flowers In The Attic is fine, but nothing at all impressive. Jeb Stuart Adams is good as Chris and Kristy Swanson is fine as Cathy. Victoria Tennant is monstrous as their mother, but the monolithic nature of her performance makes the character make much less sense. Tennant illustrates absolutely no affection for any of her children; so why she bothers to bring them to her mother’s estate to dispose of them makes no real sense. If she wanted to start a new life, why bring the kids at all?
Outside lacking a credible plot, genuine suspense or characters one really empathizes with, Flowers In The Attic is fine. Sadly, that does not leave the movie with enough to recommend it.
For other works with uncomfortable familial relationships, please check out my reviews of:
For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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