How far would you go to be the best piano player in the world? In the case of Juliet, it turns out she will go quite a ways, including having sex with a surrogate devil and suffering black eyes out of nowhere. And that is before the spontaneous bleeding from various body orifices and pushing her sister off a cliff. Life is not easy for a rock star. Be careful what you wish for.
Having said that, Sydney Sweeney does a good job as littler sister Juliet. She must, because this is a movie about sibling rivalry and she has to be the paramount of mean. That this trope fails is down to a lean and mean concept that is simply too lean. A fine enough TV episode, this Blumhouse Amazon ditty is not ready for the silver screen.
Writer/director Zu Quirke keeps things simple in her narrative feature debut. That is the way Jason Blum and the usual suspects at Blumhouse like it. A little blood here and there goes a long way in a mystery thriller. What viewers really want is influencers, anyway. They want people to be on screen that are what they dream about. Hence, much name dropping, glamor and low key high fashion. The girls are made to act like piano students while looking more like young adult fashion models posing for cosmetic ads.
Classical piano is more an oddity than something to be valued and enjoyed. Girls playing that music are considered freaks, people to be feared rather than understood and appreciated. Fate plays a big part in this screenplay as Julia is destined to always play second fiddle to her older, more talented, sister Vivian (Madison Iseman). Thus her forced deal with the devil as portrayed in her deceased predecessor’s notebook. Backwards writing encodes pictures of stages of her possession. As she finishes the last page her fate is sealed.
Trashing of work ethic aside, this is a nice enough skit. As people in the background, parents, friends and teachers, fade to furniture the notebook is used as a roadmap to tighten up the tension. Director Jack Smight tried the trope with film legend Rod Steiger in the adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Illustrated Man,” and even that met with limited success. It is hard to avoid too much narration, telling the story the easy way, without acting. The name dropping of the prestigious New York music school and the music teacher who looks like Spock get us giggling even before the disastrously phony piano playing threatens to throw the whole affair into the dust bin.
If the movie is more of a rehearsal than an actual work of cinema, it is an easy watch, a TV episode accessible and consumable along with the other Blumhouse Halloween specials. Commendable for giving huge access to talented film makers who would otherwise be lost in the mega-studio mega-blockbusters, movies like this let us all get back to the basics, establishing a foundation for bigger things to come in the future.
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