The first thing that hits you with Stephanie Daley is the rawness of the filming and production. Right off the bat it’s as if Hilary Brougher has made a conscious decision to do away with much of the typical Hollywood (over) production, leaving the sound and film raw and gritty. Giving it a purposely-realistic feel.
Initially it’s jarring, as movie watchers we’re not accustomed to realism and this grounded approach seems a little off. One the story starts to kick in however, the mood of the style fits and it seems more relaxed and comfortable to watch.
Relaxed and comfortable is not how one would describe the storyline however. It’s the tale of a schoolgirl, Stephanie Daley, who gives birth to her stillborn baby in the toilets during a school ski trip, then stumbles out bleeding and collapses.
Told through visits to a forensic phycologist who’s job it is to determine the truth behind the events leading up to the birth, and what actually happened to the baby, the film uses flashbacks to unravel the mystery.
There are three main story arcs running parallel to each other, the most confusing and unnecessary revolves around the forensic psychologist’s marriage and the possible infidelity of her husband. This in my view is detrimental to the movie, and I’m still wondering why it is there at all.
The second minor story arc is one of a subtle anti-Christian nature. It seems like this non-descript town must be in the Bible belt, as the church seems to be the centre of community life, and even though some teachers don’t like it, the curriculum seems to have a certain religious bent. It’s subtle in places, but it feels like religion is being put on trial for moulding Stephanie into an inadequately prepared teenager who doesn’t have the ability to say no to her one sexual encounter, or deal with the consequences.
It’s a fair call in some regards as religious teaching in the wrong context can be dangerous and this arc does give the main storyline a bucket load of credibility.
It’s the main storyline; the discovering what happened to Stephanie that is the most compelling, emotional and raw. The movie works well in the flash back style, but essentially, though some pertinent issues are dealt with in the present, it’s the history that makes the movie compelling, with one of the most emotionally wrought scenes that I have seen for a while, happening in that toilet. Stripped back to the bare necessities, with little in the way of sound, watching the main event unfold will have you on the edge of your seat, and will remain in you mind for a while after the movie finishes.
It’s this scene that gives you something to think about, especially as the story in the present unfolds and we find out exactly what happened on that day.
Expertly filmed, showing only what needs to be seen, Stephanie Daley is a surprisingly compelling film, considering it’s an American film, and one that feels very much European.
Whilst the pacing and subject may put some people off, it’s a story that offers a good number of questions, without forcing answers on us.
Food for thought
Is religious philosophy and the promotion of abstinence really preparing our children for the changes that they will experience through their teenage years?
Reviewed by: Jonathan Read.
Rating: M – Content May Disturb.
Duration: 95 mins.
Actors: Tilda Swinton, Timothy Hutton, Melissa Leo, Amber Tamblyn, Denis O’Hare, Jim Gaffigan.
Director: Hilary Brougher.
Release Date: Available now.