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Boarding schools have functioned as different kinds of microcosms in many films over the years, from Zero de Conduite and Madchen in Uniform through If…, Dead Poet’s Society, and last year’s Never Let Me Go. So viewing a new film in such a setting sets the mind to wondering which slot to fit it into: political allegory? Pedagogical uplift? Psychosexual parable? Cracks is happy to play with all of those, whether from overambition or simply trying to keep us from figuring out where it is going until it has pulled us in.

This school is on an island off the cost of England in the early 1930s. Even more isolated than the general student population are the half dozen girls under the spell of Miss Gina (Eva Green, the “Bond girl” from Quantum of Solace and Angelique in Tim Burton’s upcoming Dark Shadows movie). Coaching them in diving and loaning them racy books to read, she regales them with stories of her world travels and advises then that desire is the most important thing in life. For this she is worshipped by her girls.

Her spell starts to unravel with the arrival of Fiamma (María Valverde), a Spanish girl of aristocratic origins. Unhappy to have been sent her for reasons we never learn (there are hints that these girls are more prisoners that students, or possibly even the subject of more eternal confinement), she recognizes that Miss G. is less than she pretends to be. Conversely, the teacher becomes obsessed with Fiamma, leading to a situation that upsets everything in the world of the other girls.

Director Jordan Scott is the daughter of Sir Ridley Scott, so it’s hardly surprising that her debut film is rife with references to other films and genres. Still, unlike Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (irresistible as a point of comparison as another adaptation of a novel about an unbalanced community on a secluded island), she doesn’t let them get in the way of her story and its eventual horrors. There may be less here than meets the eye, but it’s a promising debut for a filmmaker who probably won’t have to rely on the family name.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Cracks

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