In Lost Movie Reviews From the Autostraddle Archives we revisit past lesbian, bisexual, and queer classics that we hadn’t reviewed before, but you shouldn’t miss.
Jordan Scott’s Cracks, set in a 1930s all-girls boarding school, dives head-first into a coming-of-age horror story that disturbs at every turn. It’s a piercing portrayal of abuse. It’s a monster movie, only instead of a creature in the night, its monster is a human woman. Its monster is a master of manipulation and deception.
That monster is Miss G, played by Eva Green and dressed up as a cold diving instructor. Much of Cracks feels reality-adjacent. Not entirely surreal. And yet also not quite right. Its very form and aesthetics feel intended to disorient. Here is a remote boarding school that seems impossibly large and yet we only ever really see one core group of students: the divers on Miss G’s team who strive for her approval. There’s a nightmarish quality to the entire film, and while the movie isn’t exactly subtle, it’s stripped-down to its ugly and corrosive core, unembellished in its stylization. These girls are alone and unprotected. Cruelness is baked into their lives by the strict rules of their school and by Miss G’s tyranny, which becomes increasingly more sinister as the movie snakes along. The young students hurl themselves from a diving board in an act that seems both violent and beautiful. But make no mistake: The movie is far more vicious than it is lovely. I call it a monster movie for a reason.
The school sits on a fictional island off the coast of England. Detached from the world, it’s a terrifying and isolating place, one that both shaped Miss G but also serves as the staging grounds for her brutality and violence. She wields her power over these students like a lance. There are several points of obsession in the psychological thriller. Diving captain and resident mean girl Di (Juno Temple) obsesses over Miss G, seemingly wanting to both become her and also have her. Her status as Miss G’s favorite is upended when a star diver from Spain arrives. Fiamma (Maria Valverde) is wholly uninterested in Miss G’s approval. Newer to the school than the rest of the girls, perhaps she’s less conditioned by Miss G’s surface-level charms, able to see her for what she really is. But Miss G becomes obsessed with Fiamma, her obsession heightened by the young girl’s disinterest.
Di’s jealousy of Fiamma festers into violence, a look at the extremities of bullying. Temple gives a formidable performance layering in shades of vulnerability to Di. She’s lonely, too. Homesick like the rest of the girls who only have each other. She’s shaped by the cruelty of her surroundings. And while she initially seems set on a path to become a monster like the one she admires, in the end, Di does break free of the school and that dark path. She’s the only one who makes it out, the film’s final girl. Cracks presents a complicated picture of trauma and abuse. Wickedness can sometimes sow wickedness, as it has for Miss G, but Di makes it out of the cycle.
Di’s not the only one whose obsessions fester into physical attacks in the film’s final half hour, when Miss G’s grip on the girls and infatuation with Fiamma becomes horrific and violent. This final act is very hard to watch. There is no redemption, no real catharsis, even in Di’s eventual escape. Cracks is one slow and frightening dive into cold, dark water with no life raft in sight. And there in the murky waters waits Miss G, ready to attack. There are moments of levity in the movie, but they are sparse and ultimately overshadowed by that last half an hour, where obsession begets assault and death.
Miss G’s obsession is terrifying from the start. The suffocating and gloomy physical setting of this movie indeed establishes a lingering sense of doom in every shot, but it’s Eva Green’s performance that really drives home just how scared we should be of her. As Miss G, she’s threatening in every lingering glance, in the way she holds herself with such confidence, like she wants to be watched and admired even as she’s capable of atrocities. Miss G captivates these young girls. But captivation is a trapping. And that’s exactly what she has done. Trap them.
Cracks does the same to us. It captivates; it traps. Scott’s direction heightens the movie’s themes of loneliness, power, and abuse. Stylistically, the sequence of the girls underwater in the middle of the night looks lovely, but that’s all a trick. Because after all, the reality of a teacher waking her students in the middle of the night to take them swimming with her isn’t lovely at all. It conveys a worrying sense of ownership, a disorienting sense of physical intimacy that foreshadows Miss G’s eventual physical violations of Fiamma.
“The most important thing in life is desire,” Miss G tells her devout students early in the film, the first glimpse that there’s something dark within her, that her control over these girls and their bodies is indeed nefarious and could lead to something violent, something deadly. I was reminded of Miss G’s strange and unnerving piece of advice while watching the short-lived cheerleading thriller series Dare Me, which like Cracks is adapted from a novel. Dare Me’s Coach Colette French is a different kind of monster from Miss G but similarly manipulative and controlling in the way she handles her cheerleaders and pits them against one another. Her advice for an eager and ambitious student of hers? “Love is a kind of killing.”
What business do either of these women in charge have in talking to their young charges about desire, about love? In both Cracks and Dare Me—now available on Netflix by the way, and I recommend it highly—two coaches overstep or outright violate boundaries, coaching in the most disturbing sense of the word. But the threats they pose are initially conveyed in these small yet hair-raising moments like their alarmingly suggestive words of advice. We’re made to feel a bit like these girls: the signs are all there that something is not right, but by the time these monsters rear their heads, we’re taken off guard. Cracks is absolutely a horror movie that occasionally tries to make you forget it’s a horror movie, even as its horrors lurk so plainly in view. Miss G doesn’t hide who she really is; she wears her monster mask almost proudly. She seems to be a woman so skilled at manipulation and destruction that she knows she’ll always get away with it. She’s the scariest kind of monster: one who doesn’t perceive her own weaknesses, one whose wickedness seems impossible to contain.
You can watch Cracks for $12.99 on Amazon Prime.
Want more movies? Check out Autostraddle’s 200 Best Lesbian Movies of All Time.
Have you read the novel? It is somehow even more horrifying than the film—perhaps because it isn’t as rooted to Miss G’s character. I completely agree with you that Eva Green enacts the magnetism that Miss G wields. In the book, we don’t get that same performance and so the entire thing feels differently horrifying—unhinged and unanchored. It is like Lord of the Flies at a South African boarding school—but somehow manages to be so much more brutal and tense and terrifying. It’s a book that will absolutely crawl under your skin and live there.
Wow I love this!