Written and directed by Elizabeth Fies
Produced by Heidi Hornbacher
Featuring Chauntal Lewis, David Lago, Stuart G. Bennett, Adrian Lee, Cindy Baer, Elisabeth Fies, Trevor Murphy
Often, the most frightening horror films are made by women not intending to make horror movies at all - In My Skin, Urban Ghost Story, and Baise Moi are all examples of female filmmaking that take a terrifying turn into horror when the filmmakers may have least expected it. The Commune is one such film. Skipping all the bullshit and going straight for the visceral purity of true horror, director Elizabeth Fies weaves a dark Alice in Wonderland story with dangerous sexual perversion and exploration, tense realism and Arthurian subtexts.
Jenny (Chauntal Lewis) in a very 'Alice in Wonderland' inspired scene
Jenny (played by the very Lindsay Lohan-ish Chauntal Lewis) is a 15-year-old girl forced to spend the summer vacation with her hippy father at his choice of residence: a new age retreat filled with patchouli-wearing nudists and tofu-eaters. Her parents have been divorced since she was a child, and there is some very real resentment towards her absentee father who never pays child support. Still, he has a court order to see Jenny and she is forced to admit that her summer will stink. At first, with only her father and the strange residents of the community to talk to (including the off-putting Rhea, played by a deftly comedic yet unnerving Adrian Lee) Jenny is distraught.
An'Alice in Wonderland' inspired dream sequence
Then she meets Puck, a young, attractive guy with awesome tattoos and an even more awesome pair of arms. Puck and Jenny flirt despite her father's outrage at their relationship, but Jenny isn't about to buckle because of her father's overreaction. As the weeks go by, and Jenny's 16th birthday arrives on the night of the Summer Solstice, things become strange and sinister for her. Her cell phone is stolen out of her room; the long-haired resident named Loki follows her every move, and she finds disturbing pictures of her mother, bound and gagged, in her father's bedroom. Worst of all, Jenny's mom has stopped returning her phone calls. With only Puck to turn to for help, Jenny finds herself increasingly isolated and afraid.
Jenny (Chauntal Lewis) and the very sexy Puck (David Lago)
And that's when the horror really begins.
Based on writer/director Fies's own life experiences growing up with a shaman/hippy father who now owns a commune(The New Buffalo), The Commune is nothing short of a new age nightmare. Interspersed throughout the film are beautiful iconic and sinister images and surrealist dream sequences as Jenny falls further into her isolation and fear. Fies does an amazing job of building tension to the unbelievable climax, which will have you gaping in awe and disgust. Chauntal Lewis's Jenny is a sympathetic and helpless creature in a world of adults gone mad, and her fears and betrayals are easily the audience's once the story gets moving. Skirting moments of the absurd at times, The Commune manages to not become a farce through the strength of Fies's vision - there is nothing funny about this film, even when it's being funny.
Jenny getting some unwanted attention from her father (Stuart G. Bennett)
Jenny's sexuality and approaching maturity provide ample moments for sexy moments with Puck that capture the sweetness, and humiliation, of 'first times' as well as deeper, more evil perversions that sexuality can breed.
'The Commune' isn't shy about showing sheer, horrific brutality
The sheer brutality of what happens in The Commune and Jenny's manipulation by a cult of religious fanatics is what The Wicker Man remake should have been if it had had any balls at all.
I agree that the actress who plays Jenny, Chauntal lewis, does look older than 15. I would place her more at 21.
But knowing what happens in the movie and how horrifying it is, and how complex the role is, I understand why they would use an adult actress to play a 15 year old instead of a 15 year old. I think it was an issue of what they felt comfortable subjecting a real teenager to versus what they thought an adult could handle as an actress.
"Another great thing about being 70,000 light years away from the nearest Starfleet vessel is that once we finally get back to Earth, we can makeup bullshit stories. Off the top of my head: 'We met Amelia Earhart,' 'We singlehandedly eliminated most of the Borg fleet' or 'Paris and I turned into giant pink lizards and mated.'"
Good question! Heidi, you're right about the why...and honestly Chauntal is still having nightmares and I feel HORRIBLE about it.
The Jenny character doesn't look fresh and natural because she is the 16-year-old who is trying to look older. Her character is the prom queen who wears full makeup and contact lenses and heels and curls her hair everyday: the Blair Waldorf. Her appearance is addressed in the movie, and I wrote her that way instead of like me because it creates the biggest shock and conflict to her high-maintenance character to be brought to a commune. She also de-evolves throughout the film, shedding her layers of makeup and designer clothes and heels, and looks her age by the end. Part of the plot.
But also realistically, I don't think you'd be any happier if I'd cast a real 16-year-old. The girls on "Gossip Girl" and "Beverly Hills 90201" who actually ARE 16 look 30, and then you wouldn't like their look AND you'd have to watch their limited acting instead of Chauntal's magnificent, nuanced performance.
Chauntal is the same age and look as the actors playing 16 in "Twilight", "Jennifer's Body", "Jumper", and I didn't see anyone balk there. Unlike my tiny indy shoot, those Hollywood productions would have had the luxury of affording to find and pay for prodigy sixteen-year-old actors; their school tutors, their handlers, their 8 hour days instead of 12, and their lifetime of therapy...and they chose not to do it and didn't get dinged for it. I expect people won't hold a totally independent project funded on love and favors to a higher standard than they hold the studios to.
i should think before i mouth off sometimes, after looking up your imdb and saw how many people were doing repeat jobs, i can see completly where you are coming from, i can't get over the fact Elizabeth is even down as a production deigner aswell as actress. Jesus, alone thats a head full.
Liz Fies! I just love the way you write girl! I've seen the trailer quite a few times now and I simply can't wait to see this movie. I also like Liz's reviews on netflix. Keep at it lady as I'm almost positive with writing like yours this film will totally live up to my expectations, especially for an indie production. Just the look alone in this film of dark images contrasted with beautiful lush colors of light peeks my interest.
You rule!!! Thanks for reading my stuff...who are you?? Drop me a line email@example.com By the way, I had to fight a lot of people on that lush color issue...people who wanted it to look like every other horror movie, like that's a good thing! So thanks for getting that...to me, the scariest things are the ones that happen on an ordinary day when the rest of the world goes on...like the Buffy episode THE BODY, or the real THE WICKER MAN (1973). Nothing scarier than knowing your pain and life doesn't matter!