2014 / Director. Kayla Alpert.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
VC Andrew’s 1979 novel FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC was a sordid and provocative story that teetered between gothic horror and trashy melodrama. It dealt with themes that are difficult to adapt to the screen and having been banned in various places around the world, its legacy has been firmly cemented as a sort of pulpy cult masterpiece.
The book was adapted in 1987 and that film, despite being a watered down treatment, it has since earned itself a strong cult following. With many of the stronger themes of the book only implied within the film, its strength and longevity is thanks to a brilliant production design and a genuinely uncomfortable atmosphere.
And now the story sees a whole new adaptation, made for television, starring Ellen Burstyn and Heather Graham. With the recent wave of serial-style franchise properties such as HUNGER GAMES, MAZE RUNNER and FIFTY SHADES OF GREY the Lifetime network looked to VC Andrew’s Dollanganer series, which saw FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC followed by three official sequels, all of which Lifetime have now adapted.
It is the story of four children who are locked up in their grandparent’s attic for several years while their mother indulges in a lifestyle of wealth and spoils. The children fall pray to their evil grandmother’s physical and mental abuse and their lives become a confusion of emotional torment and incestuous sexual exploration.
This latest adaptation is truer to the novel than the 87 version was, however it lacks the atmospheric oomph that the previous film had. Ellen Burstyn is quite effective as the monstrous grandmother, however the support she receives from the rest of the cast is atrocious. It is a telemovie that boasts a handful of very bad performances, none less than Heather Graham who is stupendously awful. The script is poorly written and the characters almost look as though they’re reading off of an autocue.
There are some interesting elements and the production design occasionally showcases some creative and effective set pieces. Sadly for the most part it all looks artificial and sterile. Kudos to them for sticking to the edgy themes of abuse and incest and remaining a lot more faithful to the book, but shame on them for keeping it PG and ignoring the books strongest components, such as rape and teenage intercourse. Such things were the crux of the novel and ought not be ignored.
Having watched this film with such disappointment I am dreading the subsequent sequels. I will be watching them, though, because I have not read the sequels to the original novel and I am curious to know where the storyline goes from here. I guess I will be lowering my expectations and approaching them with the trashiest of outlooks.