"Heathers" (1988)

Rating: R
Genre: Black Comedy, Drama
Directed By: Michael Lehmann
Written By: Daniel Waters
Released: June 1st, 1988
Runtime: 102 minutes
Studio: New World Video

Veronica (Winona Ryder) is part of the most popular clique at her high school, but she disapproves of the other girls' cruel behavior. When Veronica and her new boyfriend, J.D. (Christian Slater), confront clique leader Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) and accidentally poison her, they make it appear a suicide. Soon Veronica realizes that J.D. is intentionally killing students he does not like. She races to stop J.D. while also clashing with the clique's new leader, Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty).

This is a bizarre film. There really is no other way of describing it. It’s described as a comedy or a black comedy, but honestly you won’t be watching it for any laughs. It’s quite a serious film…if bordering on incongruity. I went into it purposefully not knowing much about it. So watching the first scene, I thought I was in for a thriller of some kind: 

The colours are very striking in the opening scene. We’ve got three girls walking in a row, each dressed in the three primary colours of red, yellow and blue, and around them is a lawn of luscious green grass. The flowers they pass are incredibly vibrant as well, and the lighting around the trees gives them a purple-ish tinge. I found the sequence quite eerie – it reminded me of the final scene in the 1976 “Carrie” for some reason. The eeriness increased when each of the three girls made all three of their names known as Heather. Of course, the eeriness stopped very abruptly when we were given a shot of Winona Ryder’s head sticking up out of a whole in the ground where the girls’ croquet balls should have been going. Having such a sudden out of context shot perks a person up for what’s to come next… We had found our protagonist and the story began! – It’s odd moments like this that lend it to the black comedy description. 

For sure, the whole film is certainly unique. It’s like a rom-com turned thriller. By that I mean, half an hour into it, the film takes a turn and revolves around a murder. It’s the reactions that classmates have to the murder that gives the film a shocking element if thought about enough. It seems to emphasise the “teenage politics” that teenagers preoccupy themselves with. The little things that seem important in this time but that most people grow away from eventually. These contrasted with the seriousness of a murder or suicide is what keeps you on edge.  

It doesn’t stop here however – the deeper into the story we go, the more violent it becomes. In fact, the script was originally supposed to be longer with much more violence written into it, and writer Daniel Waters, had originally hoped-for Stanley Kubrick to direct his script.

I think this would be one of my favourites of Winona Ryder’s roles. Her character is fierce and well capable of standing up for herself throughout the film – a contrast from my first impression at the beginning of the film. She has her own mind despite being roped into the Heathers clique which makes her a great protagonist. What makes her more interesting is her slightly skewed sense of morals. She seems to know that the way the Heathers treat everybody is wrong, but the means in which she tries to do something about it spirals into a dangerous game that she only seems to wilfully dig herself further into. It’s a case of how far would you actually go with making your casual fantasies come true?

The film, amidst its crude swearing, has some very memorable lines. Some of them made me laugh simply for their striking absurdity. They belong on a big screen, no one in reality would say these things. And if they did they’d probably receive a few sniggers and raised eyebrows. But that’s part of the movie-going experience, right?  

The soundtrack by David Newman is pretty cool. It reminds me of a mix between that from "9 ½ Weeks" and "Risky Business". If you like the likes of Tangerine Dream you'd enjoy it. 

This film is worth watching once. Personally, it’s not one I would go out of my way to watch again but enjoyed it the first time.