Film Review: Lavender

Repressed memories lead a woman to a terrible childhood secret in this psychological thriller with ghosts.
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Photographer Jane Rutton (Abbie Cornish) has a handsome husband, Alan (Diego Klattenhoff), a lovely and precocious young daughter, Alice (Lola Flanery), and a promising career—her chosen subject is abandoned houses, whose hidden stories of lives led speak to her on some profound level. But Jane's marriage has hit a rough patch and a fender-bender knocks her distress up to another level: It brings back memories of the way her family—parents and a younger sister, whom she can't even remember—died.

The friendly on-call hospital psychiatrist, after seeing an x-ray that indicates a serious skull injury in Jane's past, suggests that she suffered through some deeply traumatic event that has been repressed so thoroughly it also erased her childhood. He recommends that she consider looking into her past, and the skeletons in her family closet prove to real doozies, and restless besides. The first shock is that she still owns the family house, set on acres of farmland that now belong to her uncle Patrick (Dermot Mulroney), an affable-seeming fellow who's happy to answer any questions Jane may have. But even with her husband and daughter in tow, Jane finds herself being dragged back into a past she doesn't want to revisit. The title alludes to a folk song, "Lavender Blue," which nags at the corner of Jane's mind and proves directly linked to the mess she uncovers, one that recalls William Faulkner's famous observation that "the past is never dead. It's not even past."

The answers Jane discovers are nasty and, sadly, not all that surprising, but Cornish's strong performance as the increasingly distraught Jane serves as an anchor that keeps this slow-burn thriller—written by Colin Frizzell and Ed Gass-Donnelly and directed by Gass-Donnelly—from wearing out its welcome before the third-act revelations. There's very little in the way of elaborate special-effects work here, and kudos to cinematographer Brendan Steacy—the film's brightly lush cinematography provides a visual counterpoint to the dark goings-on. Unfortunately, it's undermined by the bombastic original score by Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson, and the 11th-hour recap of several key scenes is heavy-handed and feel like a preemptive sop to viewers who haven't been paying attention…which would be the kind of viewers more likely to feel let down by the absence of full-on spooky stuff than satisfied by the story's resolution, which hinges on the notion that not all hauntings need to be resolved by ghost-busters.

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