Back in 1987, 'Fatal Attraction' tapped into such a mother lode of anxiety about "unstable" women and the fragility of the modern nuclear family that it was easy to forget what an interesting thriller it was. A lot of what made the film so riveting was the way curly-haired Glenn Close, in a brilliant performance, played both victim and victimiser - a haunted symbol of urban loneliness. She was intensely sympathetic and then she was super evil, but we never quite forgot the human being at the monster’s core.
When it was released in 1992, Curtis Hanson’s ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ was criticised for preying on the fears of working mothers, and for its unfeminist subtext. It's not difficult to see why: after losing her husband, home and baby (the three core status symbols of “traditional” womanhood), a vengeful widow played by Rebecca De Mornay decides that her best recourse is to steal someone else’s family. Along the way, she simultaneously manages to fulfil every stereotype of the dangerous, demented, sexually predatory woman.
Directed by Kim Farrant (‘Strangerland’), written by David Regal and Oscar-nominated ‘Lion’ screenwriter Luke Davies, the psychological thriller ‘Angel of Mine’ is based on Safy Nebbou’s ‘L’Empreinte de l’Ange’ (itself apparently based on real events). Farrant’s film is more textured and sensitive than either ‘Fatal Attraction’ or ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’, but also a lot less impactful and/or fun.
The story centres on Melbourne single mum Lizzie (Noomi Rapace, ‘Prometheus’), who lost her baby daughter in a hospital fire seven years ago, and hasn’t been the same since. Divorced from her husband (Luke Evans, ‘The Fate of the Furious’), working as a cosmetics sales assistant and struggling to raise her young son Thomas (Finn Little), Lizzie begins sinking into depression and mania after seeing a seven-year-old girl, Lola (Annika Whiteley), whom she is convinced is her long-lost daughter. Lizzie quickly befriends the girl’s parents, Claire (Yvonne Strahovski, ‘The Predator’, TV’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale') and Bernard (Richard Roxburgh, ‘Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan’), in order to continue getting closer to the child.
Lizzie becomes more daring (she pops up at Lola's ballet recital, and watches from backstage), more unravelled (peeping through windows like Peter Quint in ‘The Innocents’), and surer that the girl she stalks is her own daughter. All the while, she is battling for custody of her own son - the film neatly characterises Thomas’ struggle to deal with his unstable mother - chugging anxiety pills, fighting with Mike and her parents, and freaking out her luckless dates.
Farrant’s film is a lot more textured and sensitive than either ‘Fatal Attraction’ or ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’, but also a lot less impactful and/or fun.
A fearless actor, Rapace can chew scenery with the best of them, and she’s no stranger to florid remakes of European thrillers, like Brian De Palma’s ‘Passion’. As the protagonist, Rapace’s Lizzie is not particularly likable - with such an off-putting personality, it is difficult to form a deep connection with her.
The supporting characters are, by comparison, paper-thin. However, Strahovski handles herself with aplomb as Rapace’s counterpart who becomes aware of Lizzie’s fixation. Claire is by turns sympathetic and ferocious. Had the movie been told from her character’s perspective, Strahovski’s performance might even have made the film a little more compelling.
It takes about 45 minutes before ‘Angel of Mine’ switches gears into thriller mode but, once the elements of surprise and main reveal have been made, the film sinks into the depths of silliness; it never really convinces us that Lizzie would ever act in a way that would cause Lola harm or that she could get away with half of her hijinks. Her schemes unfold haphazardly but conveniently, one after another, like a series of parlour tricks, and set up with a minimum of logic. The film also prods at themes of truth, grief, and mental illness, but doesn’t dig too deeply into them.
There are some interesting moments and solid performances in ‘Angel of Mine’, but more often than not, the film simply doesn’t deliver as a viscerally unsettling thriller, tense psychodrama or even as a soap opera.