After the opening scene that depicts Evan Rachel Wood’s Laura having rough, anonymous sex with a blindfolded stranger, Allure coyly teases us regarding the roots of the young woman’s crippling despair. Through Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s depiction of the erratic, occasionally sweet, but often abusive relationship that develops between her and the 16-year-old Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), it becomes clear that Laura is a survivor of some kind, and on a path of self-destruction that ultimately hurts everyone with whom she gets close. But there’s no reprieve from the dour tone of this film, which is so in sync with Laura’s emotional tunnel vision that her trauma is never fully contextualized in either a meaningful or convincing way.
Throughout Allure, Wood and Stone have a natural chemistry together that brings a feverish and unsettling intensity to their characters’ tumultuous relationship, though it isn’t enough to make us believe Eva’s continued involvement with the unstable and often violent Laura. While Laura is positioned from the start as damaged goods, Eva is a shy, even-keeled teenager simply struggling to get along with her cold, controlling mother, Nancy (Maxim Roy). And while Eva may be upset that she’s forced to practice the piano during most of her free time or that her mom’s douchey new boyfriend is uprooting her from the house she loves, her sudden decision to run away and live with Laura, whom she had only met twice, is absurd.
The filmmakers seem less interested in giving Eva a sense of agency than they are in using her as a toy for the increasingly erratic Laura. Indeed, Laura’s manic-depressive behavior takes center stage at every turn; she smacks Eva around for simply talking to someone a little too long, and in the next moment, she acts inexplicably sweet and loving toward her. Laura’s impulsive, manipulative actions speak to her past abuse and the cyclical nature with which that abuse perpetuates further abuse, but the inconsistency of Eva’s behavior constantly rings false, lessening the emotional punch of the film’s depiction of a woman stuck in a perpetual cycle of violence.
While childhood sexual abuse is often a factor in sexual disorientation, the film’s portrayal of Laura as a pedophilic predator feels like a tiresome, borderline homophobic character trait that’s too often associated with abused women. Had Allure‘s screenplay delved deeper into the nature of Laura’s sexuality, or didn’t define her entirely by this behavior, then this characterization may have felt warranted and ultimately less risible.