Tribeca 2011: ‘She Monkeys’ is One of The Best Films of the Year

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She Monkeys

Directed by Lisa Aschan

Sweden, 2011

Written by Lisa Aschan & Josefine Adolfsson

Director Lisa Aschan propels into the limelight with a debut film that is light on  dialogue and action, yet delivers a mighty punch with its story and atmosphere. She Monkeys tells the story of fifteen year old Emma as she lands a competitive spot on an equestrian acrobatic team. As she is taken under the wing of her older peer Cassandra, obsession and desire takes control as both girls fight for the top position. In the vein of such films as Single White Female, The Roommate, and most recently Black Swan, Aschan does an extraordinary job in creating a horrific film without being over-the-top terrifying. Consistently slow paced, She Monkeys rides the line of suspense without giving the audience the satisfaction of a scare.

She Monkeys is fundamentally a horror film at its core, yet it’s also much more. It’s a drama due to the relationships that formulate between the girls, and that of Emma and her father. It’s a coming-of-age film due to the undertones of sexual tension that are emitted between the two girls, and even that of Emma’s eight-year-old sister who is also confronting the difficult beginnings of sexuality and womanhood. She Monkeys has every right to also be called a sports film since the audience is engrossed in the realm of horse riding and all the training that the young women have to endure until the very end. No matter which genre the film fits into, She Monkeys never loses focus, acting as tightly wound in plot as the characters are disciplined.

Cinematographer Linda Wassberg amps up the atmosphere: shadows, natural darkness, and narrow scope are used to emphasize the claustrophobia of the girl’s lives. Ashan hangs the camera in all the right places to portray just the right amount of unease and unsettledness. Whether it be Emma petting her dog in the corner of her damasked-papered room, overlooking the two girls nonchalantly playing with Emma’s father’s shotgun, or witnessing eight-year-old Sara dance in a leopard-skinned bikini in front of her babysitting cousin; the audience has no choice but to soak in the awkwardness and insanity of what Ashan has to subtly offer the screen. Accompanied by the dreary score of Sami Sanpakkila, the film certainly has a slow and gloomy pulse, yet never overstays its welcome.

What makes She Monkeys particularly special is its compelling subplot. By definition, a subplot is used to support the main conflict, acting as a filler to play out the central story. Subplots are sometimes referred to as the “B story” or “C story”, but for She Monkeys and the coming-of-age story of little Sara, subplot is clearly an A+ story. Rising star Isabella Lindquist gives a remarkably complex performance beyond her years. From her idealization of being an equestrian competitor like her sister, to the smashing of her wooden horse doll after being let down from her romanticized cousin; we follow Sara’s journey alongside Cassandra and Emma; she’s offered the same depth of characterization.

After debuting at Tribeca Film Festival this year and receiving the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, She Monkeys is much deserving of all the recognition it is getting and by far is one of the best films of the year. Not much can get better than a film offering strong performances, a storyline that spans genres, and subplots as compelling as its main conflict.

Christopher Clemente

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