Many people would probably agree that high school is an awful time. Generally, teens are a pretty mean-spirited and sulky lot. And don’t forget the cutthroat politics of teen popularity. Joss Whedon crafted Buffy the Vampire Slayer almost entirely around the concept that high school is literally Hell. Not surprisingly then, horror movies have made frequent use of the ‘social outcast’ and ‘revenge’ theme. Now available on Netflix, Look Away is the latest twist on the ‘loser takes revenge’ horror theme.
Maria, a shy teen girl, has a lonely existence. At home, Maria embarrasses her father, a judgemental plastic surgeon. Picked on by her peers, Maria’s only friend, Lily, barely tolerates her. But things take a turn when Maria discovers a darker version of herself locked in her mirror’s reflection. This image, Airam, is Maria’s opposite in every way. After she’s humiliated at her winter prom, a distraught Maria switches places with her reflection. Now Airam, in control, takes revenge on all of Maria’s tormentors.
Look Away Rehashes Several Familiar Horror Tropes
Not unlike its main character, Look Away is a mirror image of nearly every horror movie about an awkward loner taking revenge. Writer and director Assaf Bernstein doesn’t so much reference past movies as much as outright imitate them. Do any of these movies ring a bell? Evilspeak? Tamara? Christine? How about Carrie? Guess what, Look Away goes so far as to recycle the whole prom scene. And it does it without the slightest trace of irony.
Look Away goes so far as to recycle the whole prom scene. And it does it without the slightest trace of irony.
At least Bernstein attempts to explore some deeper meaning. Without giving away too much, Look Away plays with themes around repressed desires and darker sides to ourselves. You can see the potential promise buried somewhere in the movie. Unfortunately, Look Away does too little with these ideas. They’re peripheral themes left largely unexplored. Instead Bernstein employs one of the laziest Hollywood narratives – the ‘high school loser’ who looks nothing like an actual loser. All Maria is missing is a pair of glasses.
Moody Atmosphere Undermined by Poor Pacing
In spite of its derivative story, Look Away shows early signs of promise. There’s a fittingly moody atmosphere early in the movie. Cinematographer Pedro Luque shoots much of the film in washed out grey tones that makes maximum use of the winter setting. For 30 minutes or so, Look Away draws favourable comparisons to another recent winter horror flick, The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Things veer off course quickly, however, and soon the movie finds itself knee deep in familiar horror cliches. Like most revenge horror movies, Airam doles out some rather dull punishments for her bullies with nary a scare to be found. Visually, nothing stands out in the movie. It doesn’t help that the movie overstays its welcome by a good 15 to 20 minutes.
Things veer off course quickly, however, and soon the movie finds itself knee deep in familiar horror cliches.
But what Look Away lacks in chills and scares, it more than makes up for with its frequent and somewhat off-putting sexual content. There’s a surprising amount of nudity in the movie, particularly given that Eisely’s character is written as a young high school student. The overt sexualization of Eisely is fairly jarring given how out of place it feels both in the movie and the broader socio-political culture today.
Eisley Impresses With a Strong Performance
If Look Away is a watchable movie – which it is – then India Eisely deserves much of the credit. Clearly, Eisley is a talented performer who shows impressive range with what’s a fairly limited character. As Maria/Airam are written, Eisely is stuck between playing a mopish ‘Carrie White’ and the kind of teen vamp you’d find in ’90’s thriller like The Crush or Poison Ivy. Even within these limitations, Eisely’s performance is what will keep you watching.
If Look Away is a watchable movie – which it is – then India Eisely deserves much of the credit.
Though the supporting cast is equally strong, most the performers are wasted in fairly typecast roles. Jason Isaacs (Event Horizon) is solid as the cold, shallow father but Harry Potter fans know he could so much more with a better written character. It’s also nice to see Mira Sorvino turn up as Maria’s mother. Sorvino is a consistently excellent actress, but Look Away gives her too little to do.
Look Away Never Finds Its Own Voice
Ultimately, Look Away is a pretty derivative, if not watchable, thriller. Anchored by a strong lead performance, this doppelganger suspense flick doesn’t do enough with its premise to distract from how similar it is to much better movies. Any horror movie that has something bad happen at a high school prom is going to have a high hurdle to clear to make you forget Brian DePalma’s work on Carrie.