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Designing the Movies: Heathers 1988

A look at film design with Globe & Mail columnist and cultural critic Nathalie Atkinson

Guest programmed and hosted by freelance culture writer and film critic Nathalie Atkinson, a columnist for The Globe and Mail, Designing the Movies explores the talents whose names may be less familiar but whose work in production design, art direction, costume and set decoration is intrinsic to the look and world of their films.


USA 1988 103min. 14A

Directed by Michael Lehman

Stars Winona Ryder, Shannen Doherty, Christian Slater

Its about teenagers, but its not a teen movie. Certainly not any teen movie the genre has known before, or since. Most teen movies tend to gloss over or play for cheap laughs mean girls and boys in favour of the eventual conformity and moralizing of an after-school special. Instead, Daniel Waterss Heathers script sinks its teeth into the casual cruelty of cliques and bleeds vicious satire. If its John Hughes, its by way of Johns Carpenter and Waters.

At Westerburg High, the queen bee hierarchy consists of the titular trio of HeathersChandler, Duke and McNamara Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk and Shannen Doherty. Their latest protge is Veronica Sawyer Winona Ryder, in the role that Rolling Stone said allowed her to enter her generations circulatory system. Enter brooding new guy Jason Dean Christian Slater. Suddenly Veronica finds popularity and absolute power less invitingbut when the duo cover up a prank gone awry, they unwittingly trigger a fatal trend that makes her think twice and think for herself abouteverything.

With a candy-coloured palette that underscores character and social hierarchy, theres caustic social commentaryfrom bullying, rape, eating disorders and groupthink to homophobia, gossip and contagious hysteria, even bystander intervention. Yet it still upends and defies conventional happy ending. There are social issues but the teachable moments in this cult classic black comedy. Its heightened, horrible, surreal just like high school. And with help from an endlessly-quotable sui generis patois, a blend of camp, reverie and corrosive sarcasm make Heathers so very. - Nathalie Atkinson

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Designing the Movies: Heathers 1988

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