New Releases: Allure
A new drama starring Evan Rachel Wood tackles the difficult but important theme of intimate partner abuse.
Evan Rachel Wood plays the abuser and the abused in "Allure"
Samuel Goldwyn Films
It’s not easy to watch a film depicting a same-sex female relationship and find that the relationship being depicted is afflicted with the dynamic of intimate partner abuse — and one that involves sexual predation. But the reality is that this problem is not only a heterosexual issue but affects many LGBTQ couples, too.
The feature film Allure focuses on the mutual attraction between Laura (Evan Rachel Wood), a house cleaner who works for her father's company, and Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), a shy but talented teenager stifled by her overbearing mother. Laura meets Eva when she comes to clean her mother’s house, sparks fly and Laura is drawn to the introverted 16-year-old piano prodigy. Eva is intrigued by Laura’s confident edginess and she soon runs away from home to live with the older woman in secret rebellion.
But it soon becomes clear that their relationship is not based on love but on obsession, dependence, and toxic intimacy. When Eva’s mother reports her as missing, Laura fears police involvement and confines Eva in her house. While the pair enjoys moments of intimacy and affection, and Eva feels as though she has one foot in the adult world, Laura’s behavior becomes increasingly unstable and controlling. Each must process their past traumas and relationships with manipulative parents to break the cycle of abuse and be free.
Evan Rachel Wood plays Laura
Queer women who have experienced relationship trauma — from a controlling or violent parent, partner or spouse — will find the film harrowing. And yet the story is an important one to tell, a view held by the lead actors, Hollywood veteran Evan Rachel Wood and Vancouver-based newcomer Julia Sarah Stone.
Allure is the first feature written and directed by visual artists Carlos and Jason Sanchez with stunning cinematography provided by Sara Mishara. Evan Rachel Wood’s character, Laura, was originally written for a man, and when the Sanchez brothers swapped the gender of the character, the script was transformed and Wood became attracted to the project.
“I thought it was amazing that they had the awareness and openness to see it actually gave us so much more complexity, depth, colors and frontiers that haven’t been explored. At first glance, this might seem like the classic captor-captive thriller but it’s so much more than that,” says Wood.
Julia Sarah Stone plays 16-year-old Eva
Wood was also drawn to the quality of the writing and to the theme of intimate partner violence. “I have a history of abuse, and I know a lot of people do, and I feel there’s a complicated version of it which recurs in relationships and it’s one that we don’t often talk about. Gaslighting is just now starting to really come into high profile public awareness,” says Wood, “because of the president. So, suddenly that word, people are looking it up and going, That’s what that is? That’s happened to me! And we realize it’s actually much more common than we think and much more complicated.”
As difficult as the film’s subject is — and Wood is deeply aware that some viewers might find it confronting or triggering — she committed to the project as a way of starting a conversation about abuse. “I think there’s still some people who are confused about how some people can be with an abuser and we need to have that conversation so that people stop attacking victims and start asking the right questions.”
It was precisely because of Wood’s history of abuse — which she has spoken of on YouTube, on social media, and most recently by testifying in Congress — that she felt a duty to take on the role.
“There were so many things I could relate to it was almost like, Look, I’m the only one who can do this. And if this does spark conversation, [the writer-directors] are actually smart to have a victim or a bisexual playing that role — or somebody who can give you an educated answer about this piece of art. I knew that there were things in this that I was going to understand that unless you’ve been abused it’s really hard to explain.”
And it’s one of the reasons that Wood’s performance is so powerful: she understands at a cellular level what trauma has done to Laura. “Even just her disassociation,” says Wood. “There’s moments in the film where you see her leave her body. There’s nothing behind her eyes. Usually, in the scenes with her father, there’s this shutting down and this leaving of herself and her humanity to survive and it shows the lasting effects of that in this woman.”
The Westworld and True Blood actor nails Laura’s inner torment. “She knows somewhere deep down that what she’s doing is not right but she has no way to stop it. She has no tools, she has never known unconditional love. The only version of ‘love’ she’s known has been abuse, and that’s how this stuff can perpetuate and go on, because she has this need to be loved and to love somebody and I think in the beginning she’s so delusional that she believes what she is doing is love and that she’s not abusing Eva — that she’s saving her.”
Julia Sarah Stone, who was 19 years of age when playing the 16-year-old character of Eva, felt a similar commitment to shine a light on the inner workings of a toxic relationship and address the “victim-blaming mentality”. “I read the script and I just knew that it was a very important story to be told,” says Stone. “It’s not something that even now we’re comfortable talking about in society, especially to large audiences. But there’s such a huge misunderstanding about what this kind of abuse actually is.”
Allure was filming during the election of Donald Trump and prior to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. In some ways, it anticipates the discussions brought to light by the #MeToo movement. “It’s a very interesting time for this film to be coming out because there’s a lot more light being shone in some darker corners," says Stone. "And I think at the same time it’s a good thing, people are raising their voices, people are starting to see the reality of some things that are happening. I hope this film can be part of the more positive aspect of an increasing understanding of things we were afraid to talk about.”
Stone acknowledges that some gay women might find the film a judgment of their desires but “only if it is mistaken for a lesbian love story, which it couldn’t be farther from. It really is about two people who are in a lot of pain and have a lot of issues with self-worth and being validated externally and so they come together and they find each other in this moment and it’s this perfect storm that leads down a very toxic tunnel. It’s not really about the fact that they are both women; it’s more about how these factors can lead to such an abusive and manipulative dynamic.”
Neither actor felt that the film was exploitative; rather, it offered them the chance to embody female characters that are rarely depicted. As Wood says, “Normally in a movie, you’d be: Here’s the victim, here’s the monster, look at the horrible things they’re doing, we know they’re wrong, this isn’t right — and that’s all we have to know. We don’t ask any other questions. But in this — it’s not letting Laura off the hook.”
Wood’s portrayal comes at a time when we need to understand both the abuser and the abused in order to dismantle the dynamic of abuse itself. And as painful as that might be, Allure is a shadow drama that fits the times we are in.
Allure opens nationally March 16.