Cracks (United Kingdom, 2009)

April 06, 2011
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Cracks Poster

The setting of Cracks - an elite British all-girls boarding school during the 1930s - is a classic exploitation film locale. For her feature debut, however, Jordan Scott (daughter of Ridley, who co-executive produced the film along with his brother, Tony), has little interest in crafting Di Does Dorm Girls. Driven more by characters and relationships than narrative, Cracks explores the exclusionary power of cliques that develop within a closed society, the single-minded violence of the mob mentality, and the seductive charm of the charismatic individual. The time period may be 80 years in the past but many of the themes are relevant to life today, verifying that some things never change.

Miss G (Eva Green) is the favored swimming instructor of a small group of girls. She is adored for her progressive views and the elaborate stories she embellishes about her adventurous past. Her favored pupil is Di (Juno Temple), whose position as "teacher's pet" allows her to rule over her fellow students with an iron fist. The balance is disturbed by the introduction of a Spanish aristocrat, Fiamma (Maria Valverde), into the mix. Miss G is transfixed by the new girl's poise and beauty and becomes obsessed with being Fiamma's friend (and perhaps more). Juno, jealous of losing her status, turns on Fiamma. Eventually, an uneasy truce between Di and Fiamma is established but Miss G's interference compromises it and leads to an ugly confrontation.

Scott carefully avoids exploitation elements. The nudity is discreet (most of it occurs during a nighttime skinny-dipping outing), the lesbian elements are low-key, and the limited violence is not graphic. Cracks is primarily about Fiamma's attempts to penetrate a closed society. Absent Miss G's interference, she might succeed. She has an engaging personality that captivates some of the timid girls and mollifies the aggressive ones like Di. Miss G, however, who initially appears as a lively, effervescent figure, turns out to be warped and twisted. She seeks to "befriend" Fiamma, but "possess" would be a more accurate assessment of her desires. Her obsession of the Spanish student fuels Di's dislike and sets up a checkmate situation for Fiamma. There is no way this can end well.

Taken out of their group, the characters of Cracks would be described as "good girls." They are not inherently violent or hateful. Banded together with Miss G's unhealthy influence as the glue that binds them, they become spiteful and cruel. The movie's realistic portrayal of the ingredients that can lead to bullying and other forms of unkindness inflicted on outsiders by those in power, speaks strongly to viewers watching in the 21st century.

Cracks' ending has the potential to disappoint. Eva Green's performance, which is carefully modulated throughout most of the proceedings, slides over the top in the final act as Miss G is transformed from a fascinating individual into a manipulative and perverse caricature. The psychological elements in place make the climax and conclusion inevitable, but Jordan invests the progression to this point with a growing sense of sadness and dread. Although the narrative is primarily dramatic, thriller aspects occasionally impinge. Cracks explores the darkness before finally emerging at least a little into the light for an ending that, while not offering fairy tale "happily ever afters" at least provides a sense of closure, mixed in tone though it may be. Cracks represents the kind of low-budget calling card that can get a director (especially one with this pedigree) noticed.

Cracks (United Kingdom, 2009)

Run Time: 1:44
U.S. Release Date: 2011-03-18
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Sexual Content, Nudity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1