Sixteen years on from his debut, the New Queer Cinema-defining Swoon, Tom Kalin finally makes a return with his sophomore feature, a flawed but nevertheless fascinating examination of dysfunction among the American aristocracy. Based on the true-life account by Natalie Robins and Steven ML Aronson, Savage Grace stars Julianne Moore as Barbara, a middle class social climber who marries Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane), heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune.
Spanning 26 years and several countries, the film begins in New York in 1947, where it’s already evident that Barbara’s social inferiority to her husband has led to an unfulfilling relationship. Instead, she pours all her love onto their young son, Tony (Barney Clark), suffocating him to a disturbing degree. As the story unfolds, and husband and wife become estranged, mother and son (now played by Eddie Redmayne) grow ever closer as they hop between European hotspots in a manner that would make Tom Ripley jealous.
Creating a hermetically-sealed universe to encase this Oedipal dynamic, Kalin allows the story to drift into twisted territory in the final third. It’s uncomfortable viewing – and not always satisfying, with dialogue feeling stilted and performances artificial. Yet there’s something compelling about these individuals – with Moore returning to the sort of risk-taking she became known for in the days of Boogie Nights. And guaranteed, you will not forget the jaw-dropping finale.
Selected release from Fri 11 Jul.