A Film a Week - Pin Cushion

The world we live in is a cruel one. Regardless of the laws either “from above” or the ones passed through the parliament, people just tend to be jerks to one another and bullying is still a common practice. The trick is that even the bullied eventually take the situation as something normal, and it is not rare that the bullied become the bullies themselves. The question is why is all that happening, and the answer could be the fear of something new, different, unknown coded in each and every group mentality with the aggression as the primary response. The other answer is just pure opportunism and the rotten nature of humankind. In that case, Deborah Haywood’s debut feature Pin Cushion is a wonderfully misanthropic case study of bullying, both horizontally and vertically aligned.

Mother Lynn (Joanna Scanlan, prone to the roles of suffering women) and daughter Iona (Lily Newmark in a career-defining role) come to an unnamed English town with a firm decision to leave the past (unspoken of, but probably traumatic) behind them and start their lives anew. Also, it seems it is not their first time. They might be conspicuous to the others, due to their physical looks (Lynn has a physical deformity of sorts, while Iona could serve as a poster child for a weird girl), but they are devoted to each other and want to finally fit in.

That might prove to be harder than it looks, for both of them. They are being mocked, shunned, used and abused, repeatedly by the townsfolk and, in Iona’s case, especially at school and eventually even their relationship suffers. The reason might be Iona’s naivety and eagerness to be liked, and as it concerns Lynn, she looks like a textbook victim. But the implications of that are monstrous: there is no growing up, only growing old, and the people of all ages, whether it is a seemingly good-natured “friendship group” leader, the seemingly gentle boyfriend, the seemingly friendly neighbour or the seemingly cheeky “frenemie” will come up with always the fresh and effective way to hurt their designated victims.

Haywood does the good job of enriching the script’s bleakness with some well-timed strange excursions to the comedy moments that are also dark and awkward, but to a good purpose and a good measure, propelling the film from the “feel-bad cinema” territory to the more relaxed one, not dissimilar to the opus of Todd Solondz. Her instincts as a director are also spot on in the sense of mixing the grim realism of the characters’ everyday life with the colourful sequences of Iona’s dreams.

The parallels can be obviously driven to Brian de Palma’s horror classic Carrie, intentionally so and not just on the surface level of physical resemblance between Lily Newmark and young Sissi Spacek, but it is done without the bloody payoff, even though it is hinted. The ending can be interpreted in a number of ways, suggesting that the moments of happiness can offer a temporary relief, but it is not too abrupt in relinquishing the film’s primarily misanthropic tone. Pin Cushion (the title is also significant – how much can the said item take before it falls apart?) is a film that works on so many levels.

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