Look Away – review (Netflix)

Maria Brennan (India Eisley) is an awkward, unpopular, seventeen-year-old high school student, who lives with her parents; plastic surgeon, Dan (Jason Isaacs) and her mother, a pill dependent, mildly depressed, Amy (Mira Sorvino). Aesthetics matter a lot to Dan.

Maria meets her best friend, Lily (Penelope Mitchell) and they both take the bus to school. On the bus, Lilly, who is popular, and is the girlfriend of Sean (Harrison Gilbertson), a popular jock, makes her way to a seat. One of the boys, Mark John C MacDonald) blocks Maria’s path.

At school, it is quickly evident that Maria is seen as an oddball. The two girls sit by the ice rink watching Sean play hockey. Lilly, herself a good skater, goes onto the ice, interrupting the game to kiss him. Maria watches on enviously.

At home, as the family have dinner, Amy tries to encourage Maria to go to the winter prom. She does not want to go. Amy persists, saying it will be good for her. Maria leaves the table, not wanting to discuss the subject anymore. At the table, Amy and Dan argue. Dan says Maria has no friends, no boyfriends, and she does not eat.

Dan believes their daughter is psychologically messed up. Maria overhears the discourse. In tears, she goes to the bathroom. Whilst in the bathroom, she finds an old sonogram photo showing two babies in the womb.

Later, as she is pleasuring herself by the mirror, she is shocked as she sees her reflection watching her. She goes back to the mirror and wipes off the condensation. Her reflection is watching her. She runs from the bathroom screaming.

At breakfast, Maria tries to tell her father about the incident, but he interrupts her, telling her she looks awful, and that she needs to put some makeup on. Maria does as she is told.

I am happy. Really.

Lily picks her up for school in her new Porsche. They pick up Sean on the way. Maria watches on as the two lovebirds greet. She follows behind as they walk into school. Mark trips her up, amusing his friends at her expense. Sean comes to her defense.

Back at home, Maria returns to the bathroom. She talks to the reflection, convinced it is in her head. The reflection talks back, telling her she can help her, she can take away her sadness.

She tells her, her name is Airam. The next morning, Maria tells her parents she is going to the winter prom. At school, she tells Lily she cannot meet her for a skating lesson as she is meeting up with her father for lunch.

Maria goes to her father’s practice. As she waits in the reception, she sees a woman, Claudia (Michal Bernstein), who greets her father warmly as he comes out of one of his appointments. She does not have an appointment, but it is obvious that she has a relationship with Dan.

Maria and Dan go to the cinema and sit uncomfortably, watching a film. Outside the cinema, they run into Mark and some of his friends. He introduces himself to Dan. As they drive home, Dan says to Maria that he wants to give her her birthday present a little early. She is to come by the office to get it.

Maria talks to Airam again. Airam tells her that her father is just embarrassed by her. Maria is convinced he is going to buy her a car. The next day she goes to see him. He tells her that he can fix her ears and slim her nose down. He also says he will improve her lips. That is his gift. He asks her if she wants that. She agrees.

Maria talks to Airam. Amy comes into the bathroom wanting to know who she is talking to. Maria says no one. Amy tries to tell Dan about Maria, he says that it is obvious that their daughter has problems. Dan gives Amy a pill to calm her down, even as she tries to refuse it.

I’m a nice guy. 

Lily takes Maria skating on a remote lake, saying she is going to teach her. When on the ice, Lily lets go and Maria falls over. As she begs Lilly to help her, Lily tells her that she knows she likes Sean. She skates off leaving Maria struggling on the ice.

Back in the bathroom, Airam tells her that she is the only one she can trust. Airam tells her to kiss her in the mirror. As Maria is about to, she is called by her mother. Amy has got her a dress for the winter prom.

At the prom, which is on ice, Sean brings Maria onto the ice. They skate a bit, but then Lily turns up watching on jealously. Maria sees her watching and falls to the ice. Sean is about to help her up, but Lily takes him away.

Mark offers his hand. Maria takes his offer, and he drags her along the ice as everyone laughs at her. Maria goes to the bathroom. She swaps places with Airam. Amy remembers giving birth, how something was wrong. The next morning, Amy asks how the prom was. Airam tells her it was great.

At school, Airam embarrasses Mark as he goads her about the prom. She then confronts Lily about how she felt about what happened at the prom. She tells her that she still wants to learn how to skate. Airam learns how to skate on her own, practicing daily in secret.

Airam sets up an appointment for her father with Claudia. She also arranges for her mother to be at the office at the same time. Amy turns up at the office and meets the sexualised Claudia in the lift. Claudia tells her she is going to see Doctor Brennan.

Airam asks why her father is not at dinner. Amy tries to tell her that he is working late. Airam challenges her to tell the truth, to say she is sick of him playing around. Amy slaps her. Airam speaks to Maria, who is now trapped in the mirror. Maria wants to know why she is so mean to their mum. Airam says that they must all pay.

Mark follows Airam to the showers. She tricks him, dislocating his knee with a hockey stick. Airam and Lily go skating. Lily quickly realises that Airam, who she thinks is Maria, can skate. Lily challenges her, doing various skating moves for her to copy. Airam does most of the moves, falling on the final one. Lily begins to skate off and Airam pursues her. Lilly loses her footing and crashes into a barrier, breaking her neck.

come to me…

Maria wants to know why she is doing what she is doing. She wants to escape the glass. The police are investigating the circumstances of Lily’s death. Airam wants to avoid them. Sean comforts Airam at the funeral. He calls her later in the evening, and she goes and sees him and seduces him.

Airam goes to lunch with Dan and starts acting up. He tells her off for being juvenile. She continues her relationship with Sean, proving an unwelcome distraction to his schooling. They go to a motel. Sean gets a call from his mother.

The police want to talk to him and Airam. He tells her that the police are looking for them. Airam says she has no interest in talking to them. Sean wants to go. Airam refuses. She hits him with a bottle, killing him.

Amy dreams of a baby crying. Dan is saying there is no point to one of the babies. She’s deformed. Airam goes to see her father. She is drunk and nauseous. He gives her some water, but she spills it on herself.

He goes to get her some tissue paper and she strips off. He tells her to get dressed. She takes her skirt off. She asks him if he thinks she is beautiful. Would he love her if she was deformed? He tries to give her a lab coat to wear. She cuts his throat with a scalpel, killing him.

Airam tries to find Maria, talking to her reflection, but there is no reply. She leaves her father’s office and returns home. She goes and lays down with her mother. The end.

Look Away is a supernatural horror/thriller that borrows from a lot of films. There is the ostracisation found in Carrie, the secret, unseen confidant found in Fight Club, a person who can only be freed by another like in so many fairy tales, and the teen angst found in a multitude of teen set drama films.

Written and directed by Assaf Bernstein, Look Away is a watchable, though not unmissable, thriller. Starring the full-lipped India Eisley as Maria/Airam—a lazy semordnilap—she is good as both the awkward, confident Maria and the darker, homicidal Airam.

Ably helped by some technical wizardry, she talks to her reflection convincingly. Isaacs as Dan and Sorvino as Amy are both poorly served by slightly underwritten characters, with flashbacks that allude to a complicated birth, and Dan’s cold-heartedness toward a less than perfect baby, not really helping to fill in the blanks.

Mitchell’s Lily is a good character, but, once again, she is too easily put in the ’awful college pretty girl’ box. In fact, with the exception of Gilbertson’s Sean, every other teen character is mean or a bully.

With her father lacking emotional nous, and her mother too weak to defend her, Maria’s only solace, from her seemingly bleak existence, is her psychopathic twin.

The film suffers slightly from being mostly build-up, Airam not entering the fray until forty-five minutes into proceedings. Unlike in the aforementioned Carrie, where, after a relentless build-up, there is a stunning and tragic pay-off, Look Away does not really have one. Maria’s chief antagonist in the film is Mark, but once she dislocates his knee, his story finishes.

Though she scares Lily into tripping and dying, Airam does not actually kill her. She kills Sean in a moment of rage and immediately regrets it. Her only deliberate act is to kill her father out of anger built up over years of rejection, but as Dan thinks she is Maria, that too is a hollow victory.

The final scene, where we see Airam lying with her mother, is flipped so we see the same image reversed. It flips back and forth, the speed increasing until both daughters are seen lying with their mother. It is a cryptic ending, and because of the sparse backstory, a little unsatisfying.

With that all said, Look Away is a moderately enjoyable film, with some good moments and quite good performances from the cast. At one hundred and three minutes, it does not feel overly long and moves along at a good pace. Look Away is worth a watch if you have not got much else going on, and want a silly/serious watch.

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