a, Arts & Entertainment, Film and TV

Flowers in the Attic comes out wilted

Flowers in the Attic, the made-for-TV movie adaptation of the eponymously titled novel that premiered on Lifetime Network last weekend, resembles a mash-up of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the most disturbing rendition of The Little Red Riding Hood you can imagine. The plot, originally penned by V.C. Andrews and published in 1979, is relentlessly sad because of themes such as disturbed families, destructive cycles, and damaging childhoods—and the movie was just as difficult to get through as the book.

For better or for worse, the movie is very true to Andrews’ novel. It has a jumpy, fast-paced quality, likely the result of translating the 600-page cube of a novel into film. Similarly, the writing of the book is simple, bare, and plot-based; both the book and film place more emphasis on story than style.

The movie’s lack of artistry shows up in many elements; the acting is poor, the cinematography ordinary, and the characters are all stock stereotypes. There is the disapproving mother and the unforgiving daughter, the young man who falls victim to his sexual desires, and the complaining twin toddlers. Nor is the soundtrack redeeming—every musical accompaniment is an eerie piano song that sounds like a carbon copy of the previous one.

The filmmakers had to grapple with translating a highly controversial book into the sensitive environment of present-day media. After its publication, Andrews’ novel was banned unanimously across North American schools for its depiction of incest. Today, most of these bans have been lifted.

In re-creating the story, the filmmakers make some interesting choices with regard to theme and plot. For example, the book’s protagonist Cathy (Kiernan Shipka) often shames her mother for going out and getting a career—typing of course, as it was one of the first accepted careers for women in North America—instead of taking care of her children. In the movie, Cathy’s mother (Heather Graham) doesn’t have a job at all, and instead seduces her father’s rich attorney as an attempt to come into even more money than her father’s will would give her.

The movie includes the novel’s frequent mention of the inherent goodness in a family name, which relates to the idea of being born into privilege and the ‘natural’ superiority of some people over others. Christopher (Mason Dye), the older brother, is known to say—in both print and on film—“We’re Dollangangers, we’ll be happy forever.” His comment, along with the frequent cinematic focus on the family’s blond hair, beauty, and wealth, may strike the audience as being classist and racist. In the movie uniquely, Christopher adds “We’ll be fine, we’re the Foxworths,” after he learns that his mother has been lying about his family name and history. This added comment showcases and mocks Christopher’s blind faith in his slew of privileges by birthright. The creators of the film would like to remind us that there is no basis for Christopher’s feelings of superiority; rather he carries them to whichever family line to which he thinks he belongs.

The filmmaker unabashedly brings out the Christian overtones of the book. In both film and text, the grandmother’s rules for her grandchildren’s conduct remind us of the Ten Commandments in their rigidity. They all centre around not engaging in incest, yet she forces her grandchildren closer and closer to it by constantly accusing them of being dirty, and locking them up together so that the act seems almost inevitable when do they commit it. In both renditions of this story, Christianity is put under a doubtful lens, its members portrayed as cruel and destructive.

This movie seems to be a collage of literary, cinematic, religious, and cultural traditions, with an off-the-wall plot portrayed in a plain style very similar to that of Andrews’ novel. If there is a message to this movie, it seems lost among the agglomeration of heavy themes and racing plot lines.

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