Sixteen-year-old Stephanie Daley (Amber Tamblyn) is under observation by Dr. Lydie Crane (Tilda Swinton) after being accused of killing her newborn baby on a school ski trip, the former denying she ever knew she was pregnant and that the baby was stillborn on arrival. Sounds like Lifetime TV, right? Maybe a movie called I Didn’t Do It or some such thing? And it would be, if it had slipped through the hands of a single-minded filmmaker not keeping his or her eye on the many facets of behavior exhibited by women in such circumstances. While occasionally succumbing to contrivances, Hilary Brougher’s second feature (her first is The Sticky Fingers of Time, an ultra-low budget sci-fier from 10 years ago) is all movie, but more intriguing is how it tells a distinctly (sometimes wrenching) feminine tale without making it only relative to Oprah watchers and talk-show bingers.
Simply by casting the spooky, wonderfully matched Swinton and Tamblyn, both excellent, the movie is already allowed a higher ground, as both actresses’ natural charisma lies in their unpredictable natures. At least half of the movie consists of their taped interview sessions, where Swinton’s pregnant psychologist warmly tries to get to the heart of Tamblyn’s inner machinations, yet these actresses make such exchanges appropriately slanted, without the “breakthrough” nonsense that ruins virtually every other movie of its type. Perhaps there’s too much else going on here (Swinton’s suspicions about possibly cheatin’ hubby Timothy Hutton may be too conventional for such a clipped film, even with the latter’s sharp portrayal), not to mention a few on-the-nose signifiers (a classroom teaching The Scarlet Letter, a dead deer by a roadside), but the movie is often more revealing when it spins off course.
There’s a deceptive layer of questioning in Brougher’s POV that always keeps the viewer alert. Is Tamblyn’s character as innocent as she seems? Is Swinton’s as assured as she should be given the circumstances? It’s these kind of questions that always keep the film on a believably human level, and Brougher’s subtle insinuations about the natures of women in such situations often has an exactitude rivaling Jane Campion’s early work. Brougher’s facilities aren’t quite at the Campion pantheon, but one would be willing to bet they might be pretty soon.