Our 80’s film season kicks off this weekend. HOME Digital Reporter Ryan Lee Gregory reviews Heathers…
With the 30-year anniversary of its release fast approaching, a hit West End musical adaptation currently doing the run, and its two leads Winona Ryder and Christian Slater being the stars of two critically-acclaimed TV series (Stranger Things and Mr Robot respectively), appetite for a Heathers re-release is rife. However, this wasn’t always the case.
During its initial cinematic run back in 1989 Heathers only grossed $1.1m, just over 1/3 of its budget. Being someone who’s knowledge of Heathers was limited simply to half-remembered tales from within the pop culture sphere this came as no surprise, as it was released during a period of over-saturation in the teen drama realm. As such, I had (incorrectly) perceived Heathers to be another high school drama of the John Hughes mould which we have seen a hundred times before to varying degrees of success.
What did surprise me though was discovering that Heathers is so much more than that. Having more akin to Brett Easton Ellis than John Hughes, the film has a cynical bite and edge that elevates it to a level worthy of the cult-status it has rightfully earned over the last three decades. It tells the story of Ryder’s Veronica, an intelligent yet popular teen, who has grown sick of the 3 shallow, 2-faced bullies (the eponymous Heathers) she has come to call friends. With the help of J.D. (Slater), the attractive new rebel in town, Veronica seeks revenge against the lead Heather by inducing vomiting from her and ruining her social standing at school. However, when the prank, seemingly, goes wrong things rapidly escalate.
Yet what separates Heathers from so many other teen dramas there have been before or since is not simply its darkly comic take on the genre, which if anything I wished was even more hyperbolic. The deft touch with which the film presents the high school environment as an allegory for society itself, although quite an extreme one, means it never feels melodramatic and all the characters, from Veronica to J.D. to Shannen Doherty’s Heather Duke, behave in completely organic and believable ways. Although there are long periods where I struggled to accept Slater as a menacing antagonist, as the narrative intensifies and J.D.’s inner sociopath comes to the forefront I found him both captivating and unsettling in equal measure.
Consequently, I ended up wishing that we were introduced to this side of his character much earlier in the narrative which would have meant that the film as a whole would have been even darker than it already was.
Although I enjoyed Heathers immensely I feel I would have enjoyed it even more if the edgier moments were nastier and more frequent, which if anything is a testament to the film’s quality and bravery to subvert narrative expectations. The things that make Heathers unique, the dark comedy and subject matter, the cynical world-view, and unlikable characters, are the best parts of the film and at the end I was desperate for more. Hence that is why I am booking the earliest tickets available to see Heathers: The Musical on the West End.
Heathers screens here at HOME on Sat 15 Dec at 20:40 as part of our At HOME in the 80’s season. Find out more and book tickets here.