A heady witches' brew of fairy-tale grimness, melodramatic excess and dark supernatural horror, Maxwell's first feature induces disequilibrium and unease. After their father's affairs precipitate their mother's flight into insanity, Jack (Arquette) and Dora (Smuts-Kennedy) endure a painful childhood separation with very different adoptive families. Jack's sadistic 'father' whips him with barbed wire while his hatchet-faced 'mother' and ghoulish 'sisters' look on. By contrast, Dora's parents are kind, if stiflingly respectable, although at school she is ridiculed and bullied. A long-dreamed-of reunion in their teens, after Jack's escape and Dora's discovery of hidden psychic powers, cannot match the damaged Jack's idealised memories; consumed by desperate, frustrated rage, he lashes out at those closest to him. Meanwhile, his vengeful sisters are on his trail. As the disturbed creator of a steam-driven, hypnosis-inducing light-machine, Alexis Arquette proves that his sisters Rosanna and Patricia have no monopoly on the family talent for flakiness, while Sarah Smuts-Kennedy brings a luminous inner strength to the outwardly frail Dora.
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