When an all-female cast stars in a film called Cracks, you'd be excused for thinking it's a straight-to-DVD Spring Break romp. Actually, Cracks is a flawed, yet seductive exercise in period atmospherics that takes dashes of about six other movies and creates a grim fairy tale about jealously and lost innocence. Eva Green plays an all-girls boarding school teacher in 1930's England holding her charges in rapturous sway until a newly arrived student threatens her authority. Cracks is the directing debut of Jordan Scott, the daughter of Ridley. When it comes to mood and tone, the replicant didn't fall far from the tree. When it comes to pace, character and insight, however, things get patchy. Domestic interest will be limited with ancillary looking brightest.
Scott, working with Oscar nominated cinematographer John Mathieson (Gladiator), presents the elite boarding school as a foreboding and isolated prison where young ladies teeter on the cusp of a sexual blossoming their environment prefers to subdue. Living amongst the dour headmistresses is Miss G (Green) a gorgeous, lively and lithesome creature who spins tales of her glamorous adventures to her fascinated and impressionable students. Especially enraptured is Di (Juno Temple, excellent), the Alpha female in a
clique of girls left otherwise undifferentiated by Scott. The group spends most of its time practicing their diving at the nearby lake, with Miss G giving them inspirational talks about destiny and desire. One can see why the girls would be so enthralled by Miss G. She's the youngest teacher at the school and certainly it's only bohemian. Her beauty and success are worth aspiring to and Scott lavishes her, to the occasional oversized degree, with theatrical poses and gestures. Miss G is obviously an ill fit which makes her all the more alluring to the girls and to us, even if her motives remain stubbornly sketchy.
Scott excels in maintaining a low, persistent hum of eroticism whose purpose is not titillation or camp. Despite visuals that include Miss G standing inside rock formations that can only be interpreted as vaginal openings, this isn't high-toned soft core (sorry, boys). Scott is trying to create a story of female awakening played out as tragedy. Her way with Sapphic tension really kicks into gear with the arrival of Fiamma (María Valverde, an otherworldly beauty). The daughter of Spanish aristocrats, the school's newest student refuses to make friends because she believes her stay will be mercifully short. To the dismay of the others, Miss G takes an interest in Fiamma because she's exotic, an expert diver and has traveled the world. Di is especially hurt. Her leadership status amongst the other girls is endangered and now Miss G has a new favorite student whose attributes Di cannot match. Still, the resentful Fiamma's lack of fealty allows her to pick up clues that their free-thinking teacher may not be who she says.
Cracks has mood to spare, although Scott would have been better served trading some of it for fluctuations in pace and answers to some nagging questions. As Miss G's influence begins to crumble under Fiamma's accusatory gaze, it's tempting to dismiss the whole thing as a Zalman King directed uprising in the all-girls wing of the boarding school from If... where the truth about Miss Jean Brody is revealed to the girls from Picnic at Hanging Rock. Such a conclusion blithely discounts the effectiveness of the core threesome. The school, on an island no less, is a place of deemphasized sexuality, so a beautiful stranger is sure to activate the jealousies of Di and the longings of Miss G. Fiamma, though, isn't a sex object in the obvious sense (sorry again, boys). She's desired by Miss G because she represents everything Miss G has only pretended to be. Unfortunately, Scott forgets that while Miss G has the showiest arc, the movie is really about Di. She has the most to lose if her idol is torn down and the most to gain from the result. Failing to get us invested in that possibility compromises the movie's lasting impact. That said, it's hard to deny the captivating energy of the slow, simmering fuse that Scott nurtures until its inevitable detonation.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Eva Green, Juno Temple, María Valverde, Imogen Poots
Director: Jordan Scott
Screenwriters: Ben Court, Caroline Ip, Jordan Scott
Producers: Kwesi Dickson, Julie Payne, Andrew Lowe, Christine Vachon, Rosalie Swedlin
Running time: 107 min
Release date: March 18 ltd.