Directed by: #CateJones
Written by: #CateJones
Dysfunctional families, eh? Who'd have them! Well, us moviegoers, apparently. There's been a string of movies lately that focus on the dysfunction of the family unit. Mainly since Ari Aster brought the subgenre back to the mainstream with his 2018 hit, Hereditary - a film I didn't care very much for. But it's a film Cate Jones borrows quite heavily from (along with a dash of Practical Magic and a hint of Psycho) for her feature-debut, She's the Eldest. A movie which is full of feminist energy and really, really weird stuff!
Three siblings – Leanne (Mary Buss) - mothering and kind, Polly (Cate Jones) - a strong-willed feminist, and Jamie (Mickey Reece) - childlike and vulnerable – return to their childhood home to reconnect with each other. But instead, they end up uncovering the events surrounding their parents' mysterious disappearance.
There are a plethora of solid performances here from very gifted actors. Although some of the side characters don't seem to go anywhere; to evolve, they're always a delight when they're on screen nonetheless. The three siblings are, themselves, a little hard to read; an enigma, if you will. This seems intentional though and serves as a crucial plot point later in the film. But more importantly, they're relatable, likeable and there's a depth to the characters that will keep you engrossed in their story.
There's a recurrent theme throughout the movie of women having to sacrifice their professional dreams for the sake of their personal lives. Plenty of times do we hear of a woman who went off to college, got degrees, then had to give it all up and 'settle down' for a mediocre job and family - "These boys... they're not worth the sacrifice and pain." A detail brilliantly mirrored, but gender-swapped, in the genuinely bizarre B-movie (Corgi 2) that the siblings watch together. Indeed, there's a feminist vivacity here that's quick to point out that it's the women here, not the men, who are the stronger of the sexes. After all, it takes strength to waive one's hopes and dreams for the sake of another. It never feels bitter, though, and everything resonates with good humour.
The entire film is in black & white, which always looks beautiful. Jacob Burns' work on the cinematography is quite outstanding: I especially love the way the camera moves around the house and frames the characters themselves. It adds a lot of personality to both its surroundings and subjects. However, I'm not sure the black & white adds an awful lot to the movie, at least not until much later: it does add texture to certain scenes and, perhaps, it speaks of the characters' connection to the past - another recurrent theme here. I'm not entirely sure, to be honest. And that's pretty much how I left the film feeling: what have I just seen? The whole third act is erm, quite something. I'm not sure what it is—but it's something.
There are some issues here and there. Some of the dialogue doesn't flow as it should, and narratively it's a little all over the place at times. But I love that this is a movie which makes you think; that you have to work to get the most out of it. It never spoonfeeds you the information you need, and that's something rare these days; something that we should celebrate. She's the Eldest is an incredibly promising feature-debut that left me bewildered, captivated and sure of only one thing. I thoroughly enjoyed it!