Butterflies – Review

Butterflies 2021 FilmHigh school can be a difficult time for so many young people. You’re starting to discover who you are and what you like on top of the pressures of studying, fitting in and trying to have a good time. Many people will tell you that it’s supposed to be the time of your life … But what if it’s not? What if you’re struggling or ‘uncool’?

These are just some of the themes touched upon in Kevin Van Stevenson’s Butterflies. The film is based on Tom Leveen’s novel, Party, which tells the story of one night at a high school party through the voices of eleven different attendees. There’s a lot to unpack in the film’s 98 minute run time, not least because it does manage to cover all of these different voices.

We meet Beckett (Sara Catherine Bellamy), a young girl who is convinced that this should be her last night on earth. There’s also Morrigan (Michelle Redman), who is desperate to lose her virginity to Ryan (Joshua Smith), having recently broken up with Josh (Lyndon Hoffman-Lew). Azize (Ebin Antony) is a Turkish immigrant who is just excited to have the opportunity to mingle with his fellow high schoolers. Max (Alex Lecca) wants to stop being unlucky in love and Anthony (Carter Skyers) is utterly haunted by his past.

It’s perhaps safe to assume the title of the film, which differs from the book, refers to the transient nature of butterflies – they’re always hopping from one spot to another. In the same way, the film weaves in and out of several narratives as it offers us a fleeting glimpse into the chaos and events of one night.

There are several things that work really well in the film. The fourth wall breaks – Fleabag-esque asides mid-conversation – are well executed and allow you to get to know the characters on a deeper level, which is no small feat in a cast of this size. Nikola Antonucci and Nick Nelsen’s score is suitably ambient but throws in some pulsating techno when it needs to. The lighting switch from ‘normal life’ to ‘the big party’ would make you think of a Winding Refn film, all neon pinks and blues. It’s hazy and disorientating, drawing you right in.

Butterflies 2021 FilmThe pacing is a little ropey to begin with – the first half hour is essentially scene setting and introductions – but once the narratives converge, it starts to find its feet. Where Butterflies perhaps becomes a little difficult to follow, though, is the sheer volume of content in the script. As noted, the book upon which it is based follows eleven different narrators. The film, as a result, touches on everything from racism to misogyny; suicide to unhappy homes; violence to underage drinking. These are all, in their own right, very heavy and complex subjects. They don’t get the chance to be explored on the deeper level that they need because of all the different plot points.

It also means that – just as the opening third had a lot of set-up to do – there’s a bit of a rush within the last twenty minutes to tie up all the loose ends. There’s a lot of yelling and raised voices (and, in the case of Morrigan’s parents, a lot of shoehorning in further background information) but they don’t help further the plot. This is a shame as there are some good performances getting lost in the melee. It’s clear the director has a talent for storytelling however the ambition to convey so many themes is constrained by the film’s runtime.

However, Sara Catherine Bellamy gives a solid performance as Beckett. Her suicide attempt at the bridge over the river is quite harrowing and well acted. It’s also very beautifully shot, with a mix of close ups and wide shots, and makes effective use of the lighting from the streetlamp. The actor playing Tommy (Kennedy Porter) is a real stand out – engaging and cheeky, particularly in his pieces to camera. Carter Skyers and Ebin Antony are also deserving of more screen time to flesh out their complex characters.

Whilst Butterflies could perhaps have benefited from cutting down on the number of different narratives it strives to take on, there are a lot of positives here. The ambiguous ending almost feels like something out of a horror movie and ensures that you are watching right until the credits roll. The film doesn’t necessarily offer anything new on the American cinematic high school experience, but the fourth wall breaks and the cinematography keeps things interesting.

Butterflies does not have a confirmed UK release date at the time of review.

 

 

Mary Munoz
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