With so many recognizable pieces of Montreal neighbourhoods on display, it’s easy to connect with Allure, at least on a visual level, and find that its dark subject matter plays beautifully against local wintry backdrops. Directors Jason and Carlos Sanchez and cinematographer Sara Mishara wash residential areas like NDG with a saturated, sombre, grey skies atmosphere – not exactly impending doom, but a heaviness that lands you smack in psychological thriller territory.
Evan Rachel Wood’s Laura is a complex woman spiralling out of control in ways that worry her father (Denis O’Hare), who keeps an eye on her as his employee. When she falls for a teenage girl, Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) on the job, they both get caught up in a toxic relationship based on possessiveness and fear. Eva’s mother (Maxim Roy), not unlike Laura’s father, leaves the door wide open for the kind of emotional neglect that makes Eva and Laura’s bond even stronger and more destructive. The tension keeps moving within frames of intense looks and close-ups of the lovers’ faces, while both parents manage the hard realities around Laura’s instability and Eva’s vulnerability.
Eva grows from a naïve teen who is almost a Lolita cliché, easily seduced by someone older, to thankfully a coy girl who knows what’s happening to her and waits to break free. Things move very mysteriously, though, which can often be underrated in a thriller like this. The audience gets a chance to learn about the odd triggers of each character, especially Laura’s, whose early behaviour in a graphic sex scene is so difficult to relate to from a distance. Halfway through, you’re curious about both the innocent sad girl and the angry older woman, as if they’re two halves of the same person.
As Allure progresses, Laura is unmasked as deeply insecure and fragile, looking for someone to love her unconditionally, far from the cool, sexually adventurous badass that lures Eva. The shift doesn’t happen quickly either; only after a series of events does Laura start to crumble. The power dynamic between Laura and Eva is always off, and the film does a great job of exploring just how unbalanced a relationship like this can be, when there’s one person alternately dominating and begging for control.
The casualness of two female characters meeting and slowly beginning a love-gone-wrong affair as a central premise is artfully done in Allure, since there’s never a self-conscious note about sexual identity needing to be defined. The film isn’t really about sex anyway; it’s about the lust for power and control over someone unattainable, who cannot love you back the way you crave to be loved.
Allure is now playing in theatres.