Although we’re still not entirely sure what the title means, She Monkeys is a good coming-of-age drama, anchored by some excellent performances and the visual sensibilities of director Lisa Aschan. Sadly though, it perhaps lacks a bit of the emotion required to really draw you in and take the film up to the next level.
In the main plot strand we follow two equestrian gymnasts, Emma (Mathilda Paradeiser) and Cassandra (Linda Molin), who appear to form a connection after Emma joins the team. The two hang out, toy with the affections of young men, as their connection seems to grow deeper, even if Emma is less outgoing than her tall, typically Scandinavian-looking counter-point. However, the competitive undertones between the two are always present. In parallel, we see Emma’s younger sister become slightly obsessed with her older cousin.
The film is fantastically shot, and is an extremely well composed and engrossing film on a visual level, dowsed in the muted and blue tones one might expect of the film’s Scandinavian setting. Throughout, however, the film has a vaguely threatening and disconcerting air, even when the particular scene doesn’t feel like it should have such an ominous tone or score. It often feels as if it is the director’s, Lisa Aschan, point of view rather than the characters’ narrative one. Admittedly, this plays into the subversive nature of the piece (as a coming-of-age film, this is pretty far from the Hollywood equivalent) – which also functions as a very slow burn and understated thriller.
At times the film is rather too composed. Although this may well have produced a film with a different tone, certain segments could have done with some more raw emotion from the characters in order for us to empathise fully. Having said this, the performances of Paradeiser and Molin are excellent, delivering a great deal of nuance to the young girls. Much hinges on their performance and they fortunately deliver an engrossing dynamic. Isabella Lindquist plays Emma’s younger sister with a great deal of promise. An often-uncomfortable sub-plot that parallels her sister’s own awakenings, it isn’t without ambition and resonance, but feels slightly tacked on – especially in the initial stages.
Overall, She Monkeys is an engrossing drama with a lot of talent behind it. However, some unclear narrative and tonal choices prevent it from being a truly great piece of work. Well worth seeing, for the visual exactitude of Aschan and performance of Paradeiser particularly, She Monkeys is an excellently bleak counter to the more prosaic coming-of-age stories we are all too familiar with.
Best moment: The slightly shocking but entirely well-judged final few minutes.