Film Review

Celia

todayMarch 23, 2023 117

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of Hard to categorize films, coming of age films, Folk Horror, Australian Women directors

Released in 1989, Celia has been a challenge for people to categorize. Initially, it was marketed as a coming of age story in Australia, but when it made its way to the United States it was misleadingly marketed at Celia: Child of Terror, in the same manner as The Bad Seed. It is much more nuanced than that. Recently, it has had a revival due to its inclusion in the All the Haunts Be Ours, the glorious Folk Horror Collection from Severin Films.  It most definitely has many of the tropes of this sub-genre, but even then it still defies being placed in a box.

It tells the story of Celia, an eight-year old girl learning about the challenges of life in the 1950s.  These include her father’s PTSD, the death of her beloved grandmother, the McCarthy-like politics of post WWII, and bullies in suburban Australia. The writer and director, Ann Turner, masterfully tells this story through the eyes of Celia.  She captures the child-like way of looking at the complexities of life filtered through a folktale about the Hobyahs, nasty creatures from a story book read to her by her teacher.  These creatures take on many of the upsetting elements of life around Celia, and her blurring of reality and fantasy becomes a concern for her parents and the audience. This leads to some truly horrific and chilling scenes.  Of special note is the acting of lead Rebecca Smart, who lives and breathes the role of Celia.  Everything she does is believable, raw, and natural.  For me it is up there with JeanPierre Léaud in 400 Blows or Subir Bannerjee in Pather Panchali. Ann Turner has gone on to make several other films and has become a renowned author in Australia.  She was a real trailblazer, like Jane Campion, in pushing for opportunities for women in film.  She deserves to be recognized for her work and Celia deserves to be seen.

 

Written by: Gareth Jones

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