I wanted to like this: it’s directed and photographed with flare and it’s got some powerful, dramatic material to work with, but in the end it’s a little clumsily handled. The story is about a girl named Dot who’s deaf and doesn’t speak either. Her mother died when she was seven and her father just passed away, so she’s moved in with relatives. Her new “sister” (her cousin) is a popular cheerleader and is unusually cruel to the deaf girl. It was these scenes that bothered me the most: they just felt off, false, almost surreally exaggerated. Yes kids can be mean, but this was meanness of a baser kind, picking on a girl with a disability for no reason other than cruelty.
For instance, in one scene the cruel sister, Nina, encounters Dot in the bathroom. They are alone. Nina’s putting on makeup and she tells Dot that she ought to use some makeup to make her prettier. She then says some sweet things that seem genuine: stuff about how she was sorry they hadn’t kept in touch since they were kids, etc. What she says as real depth and insight, quite shocking come from the airhead cheerleader. We start to wonder if maybe Nina isn’t as bad as we thought. She puts some lipstick on Dot and leaves. Then Dot looks in the mirror and we see her whole mouth is covered in red lipstick like a clown in a nightmare. The reason that scene didn’t work for me is that if Nina was smart enough to come up with such insightful thoughts, she could not have been so cruel with her lipstick joke. The two actions contradicted each other and could not come from the same person. If Nina had been less insightful and more cloyingly fake, the scene would have worked. But the writers made her seem too genuine — more genuine than she could possibly be even for pretend.
The story continues as secrets are revealed: Dot discovers that Nina’s perfect life isn’t so perfect. She’s hiding a terrible secret: her father has been having sex with her. This part of the film I thought was extremely well done. Nina’s reactions here were flawless. She’s torn between loving her father and hating him. She seeks out his approval with a desperation that’s pathetic to see, yet she’s filled with rage and frustration at her lack of power in their relationship. The father is horrifying and disgusting yet we understand him: we watch his manipulation of his daughter with a sick dread. All of the characters have secrets: Nina’s mother, Nina’s best friend, Dot, and Dot’s new boyfriend. Interestingly, they all find an outlet with Dot. She can’t hear so they talk to her, confess their secrets, and she doesn’t say anything. She’s like the ultimate priest.
Everything culminates in the planned murder of Nina’s father, and the ending worked. Unfortunately, the film as a whole strikes a few wrong chords that make it feel awkward. Much is extremely well done, but there are occasional scenes that don’t work or leave a bad taste. Some just seem out of place, like the pig dissection scene in biology class. These are minor but they add up, and in the end you aren’t sure if the drama is artificial or real. If the whole film had been done right, with a realistic feel, this could have been a powerful film. As it is it has power, but the power is muted, and it just doesn’t quite work. It’s an interesting piece, fascinating in many ways, but as a whole it misses the mark. That’s unfortunate because it had great potential.