Netflix is a treasure trove of dodgy-looking films and here at ShellsuitZombie we have made it our mission to watch them all. Well, at least 20% of them. To begin, we have a double feature, with Wuthering Heights to put a breezy chill in your knickers and Material Girls because I apparently enjoy suffering.
Title: Wuthering Heights
Set in: The Moors
Starring: Kaya Scodelario and James Howson
Netflix Rating: 3 stars
Based on Emily Bronte’s romantic tale of child and spousal abuse, this adaptation bases our protagonists, the somewhat dysfunctional Earnshaws, in a kind of 18th century Turbo-Yorkshire that vaguely resembles Mordor. Mr Earnshaw and his children Catherine and Hindley, proud owners of a grim and cold farmhouse that will be expertly regenerated in a couple of hundred years on Grand Designs, all farm and tramp about in a manner that suggests if they were a little more sensible they’d all just move to Spain. To get the plot going, Mr Earnshaw goes on a business trip and returns home with a seemingly mute boy he found wandering about Liverpool, because that’s a usual thing to do, and Cathy and Hindley are all like “AW THANKS DAD”. Christened Heathcliff, Hindley instantly starts persecuting the foundling because ladz and banter and Heathcliff grows ever more quietly dangerous. However, in a shocking twist, Cathy and Heathcliff, two teenagers who see literally no one else who isn’t a relation, start FANCYING each other, if you can imagine such a thing.
As the children’s mutual obsession mushrooms out like a nuclear blast, Mr Earnshaw grows more concerned for Cathy’s eternal soul and says things like “how can I love you? I regret the day you were born” (you know, normal dad stuff), while Hindley’s hatred of Heathcliff reaches truly teeth shattering levels. Eventually Catherine is convinced to stop running about on the moors like a wild thing with Heathcliff and join the class ridden society of her time, marrying her rich neighbour Edgar despite serious misgivings. Unluckily for everyone these two aren‘t the full basket of buns, and her (sensible) decision to settle down with someone slightly less intense results in the soul-deep destruction of the both of them.
I’m going to be straight up here, I started watching this film EAGER to hate it. Every version of Wuthering Heights I have seen has always been a bitter disappointment of a scale of finding out that your favourite musician is a scientologist. The main issue has always been that people try to approach it like a Jane Austen novel, in need of a starry-eyed, syrupy, traditional-costume-drama treatment, when really it’s NOTHING like Jane Austen. Or even Charlotte Bronte, or anything else of the era. Instead of witty romps with crossed wires and good natured regard, Wuthering Heights is really horrible. And, surprisingly, this stark adaptation takes the “really horrible” theme and runs with it.
The film opens with Heathcliff bashing his head against a wall (classic Heathcliff) before collapsing in a swirl of beautifully shot dust motes. Continuing with this attention to detail, the film is a lovely looking thing, picturesque in the same way a brutalist tower block can be when silhouetted by a sunset. The moors have never looked more moor-ish, and Cathy and Heathcliff’s intense, claustrophobic intimacy is brilliantly captured against a vast backdrop. The touches of realism you see in Cathy’s greasy hair, abundant swearing and endless mud are genuinely refreshing in a genre that usually deals in adding an otherworldly idealism to a point in history where everyone had terrible teeth and regularly died of thrush. The director, Andrea Arnold, also cast (accurately, some may argue) the first black Heathcliff, which explores another aspect of a time that is often whitewashed and adds an extra dimension to his isolation, given Britain’s proud history of being incredibly awful to everyone.
These are the good things, especially effective in the first chapter of the film where Cathy and Heathcliff are spotty teenagers, licking each others wounds (literally) and play fighting with such intensity that you get the idea they intend to kill each other at some point. Unfortunately, by the time they reached adulthood, I really couldn’t have cared less. The narrative of the novel is told at some distance, with other characters and plotlines developing alongside the main romance, and this film proves that this is actually entirely necessary. The director’s unswerving, suffocating focus on the young lovers is a bit of a misfire in my book because Cathy and Heathcliff are so uniquely dreadful and self obsessed they become the most boring people in the world. I mean, really. When you look at their personalities it’s bloody obvious why they make each other so miserable. They’d never actually go OUT, would they? Cathy would be like “maybe we should pop to the pub for a couple?” and Heathcliff would reply “Nah, lets stare into each others eyes and pull our hair a bit cruelly. That’s real love”.
There is also the downside that this film contains not one laugh. When Heathcliff returns home after running away and making his fortune, stung by Catherine’s rejection, he tells her “My plan was, see your face, get my revenge on Hindley, then kill myself” which pretty much sums up what a riot he is. Although potentially a force to be reckoned with in business, statements like “my plan is, cut overheads, get my revenge on my main competitors, then kill myself” would add a little extra urgency to weekly meetings. BUT ANYWAY. The film stomps on in an incredibly depressing way until a scene of, I would argue, unnecessarily gratuitous necrophilia (is there any other kind?) and a anticlimactic end. By which point I was desperate for a dance scene or something just to liven the whole thing up. So all in all, the film sets the right tone, but maybe just too much?
Does it Deserve it’s Netflix Rating? Yes, 3 stars is fair. The director should be commended for making something truly original, but perhaps needn’t have taken the whole thing QUITE so seriously. It’s hard work, I can tell you.
Title: Material Girls
Set in: God knows
Starring: Hilary and Haylie Duff
Netflix Rating: 3.1 stars
… was conceived from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. If I hadn’t of read that on Wikipedia, I would literally have had no idea. WELL. After an opening where the two main characters pose and the word “fresh” floats about the screen in a type usually reserved for PowerPoint presentations in the cardboard industry, we learn that our leading ladies are what is a known as “material girls”. They like things! They look good! You see them at hot parties which you know are hot because there’s dancing montages and all the time you are thinking “theirs lives are just so fabulous!” They say stuff like “if I have to hear the Spice Girls one more time… I hate classic rock” and “there’s nothing I like better than getting my temples rubbed… Except new shoes!” because it’s cute when girls are insufferably dense.
In an event that shook the world, their dead father’s cosmetics company that’s been funding their lavish lifestyle, Marchetta, is rocked by a health-scare scandal, and the girls are left penniless and hounded by the press. With everything their father worked for about to be lost to his major rival, “Fabiella” (yes, really), they have a choice whether to fight for their fathers company or accept the 120 million dollar buy-out fee that Fabiella is offering them. Other points of tension include:
. Will the blonde one get to study chemistry, despite her sister’s assertion that college applications are “weird” and that “the face of Marchetta does not study chemistry”?
. Will the brown haired one get with that lawyer who she seems to clash with so badly?
. Can anyone actually reach this end of this film before painting over their own eyeballs?
The girls need a lot of help in their efforts to save Marchetta. One guy who’s more than willing is the lab assistant they assumed was a parking attendant despite the fact he wears a lab coat throughout literally the entire film. He fancies the blonde one of the girls, which you can tell because when she says “I never Welch on a debt”, he says seductively “Don’t worry, I’ll collect on that later. BY PUTTING MY PENIS IN YOUR VAGINA” (he may not have said that second part). Another one of their illuminating exchanges is
“I really like chemistry!”
“So do I! It’s why I work in the lab!”
To which an uncharitable person could observe NO DUH SIR OBVIOUSTRON but one must not be too picky. A more interesting relationship is between the brown haired woman and the lawyer who also agrees to help them for no reason. They bond over a dominos pizza. They fight over his cat. It’s a rollercoaster and I for one was on the edge of my seat wondering whether they would ever see past their differences and know each other in the biblical sense.
When they aren’t involved in breath stopping, strictly 12A flirting, these girls are embarking on an investigation to save their father’s company and protect his legacy, to save money on private investigators because they have no money now. Especially when their car is stolen by Goths (Gothery. The traditional uniform of the criminal underclass) that they also assume are parking attendants because in their world everyone who isn’t them is a parking attendant. Their investigations include a inconceivably long scene where they phone people. It has a inspirational song in the background and is, I suspect, meant to be the high point of the film. It also involves a lot of split screen.
See? A LOT. All that phoning pays off when they find out that the health scare is a FAKE and OHMYGOD the blonde one ends up in prison after tricking a man with her sexiness and stealing pertinent documents. Unfortunately nothing truly terrible happens to her and she just bonds with the working class by telling them how to wear make up. The brown haired one pays for her bail by giving up her Rolex (SHE HAD A ROLEX THIS WHOLE TIME?!) and they use their new found smarts and evidence to prove how their company and father had been set up! By Fabiella! Except SPOILER ALERT it wasn’t by Fabiella it was by a guy who sort of hangs about them during the film and is apparently their trustee, upset that their father didn’t leave the business to him.
Because they’ve learnt life lessons they work hard and the blonde one becomes a chemist, turning Marchetta into an affordable make up brand. It’s nice because they realised in their brush with poverty, where one of them was wearing a Rolex constantly, that the answer to America’s severe inequality is cheap exfoliates. The End.
The thing that really strikes you as you watch this film is that hundreds of people turned up, every day, for months, to make it. And all you can ask yourself is, why? 4 months indoors, crafting a Mohawk out of their snail trails that they later exhibit to their bemused and upset families would have been better spent. I mean, the JEOPARDY in this film is that two genuinely terrible people may have to sell their father’s company for 60 MILLION DOLLARS EACH. That’s what can GO WRONG. I may have an empathy glitch but I find it very hard to worry about two made-up people losing their made-up business but remaining ridiculously made-up rich.
And I know that all films are pretend and make believe but this is such terrible pretend that it’s hard to concentrate. In a touching moment desperately trying to shoehorn in anything remotely relatable about the two leads, brown haired girl reveals that their mother run off when they were young and doesn’t talk to them. Except she didn’t normal run off. She went to Egypt and lives with an Egyptian prince because YEAH RIGHT. And I know this is a film made for teenage girls BUT it’s created by people who think teenage girls are COMPLETE IDIOTS. And having been a teenage girl I know that they are in fact only idiots most of the time, so it’s doing them a disservice.
Then there’s the sort of awful attitudes that informs much of the action. One character is a serious black businessman who goes all ghetto at the end and raps a bit… because… racism? There is literally no other reason for this happening other than the makers are stupid and thought it would be funny (side note, not one thing in this film is funny. Not even the bits they score with “silly” music to prove they are being funny). And all the other women in the film, apart from a mother-figure nanny, are pathetic non-hots that exist to be laughed at or pitied, while the leads are disgustingly shallow because WOMEN BE SHOPPING and so on. It’s the sort of film that mother’s who enter their 6 years olds into beauty pageants would like, and even then not that much. Let’s all burn every copy in a spiritual cleansing.
Does it Deserve it’s Netflix Rating? All this film deserves is 4 weeks on The Rack.