Crush (1992) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Crush is one of those Pinteresque films in which a sinister stranger insinuates him/herself into the lives of some relatively isolated people.

It's an odd film almost from the first moments. A literary critic from New Zealand and her American friend (Marcia Gay Harden) drive through a picturesque part of the North Island, on their way to interview a Kiwi author who is a Booker Prize winner. The two women discuss the fact that the interview may go poorly because this author is notoriously hard on critics, and she has written some harsh words about him. The American spots an odd roadside attraction which causes her to takes her eyes from the road long enough to cause a terrible accident. The New Zealander's body is mangled and appears to have died in the crash, but the American is only dazed, so she does what I think any of us would have done in this case. Instead of calling for emergency assistance, she makes her way to the author's house and pretends to be the critic - without even changing her American accent! This author is apparently not the brightest guy in the world, because he buys the impersonation hook, line and sinker.

The American is soon seducing the author, which doesn't go down well with his daughter, who kinda thought the American was hitting on her first! Meanwhile, it turns out that the real critic was not killed in the crash, but her body and mind were both badly damaged. When the daughter figures out precisely what is going on, she goes to the hospital, befriends the injured critic, and begins programming her for a recovery that includes revenge against the controlling American.

And so forth.

The daughter was really only planning to turn her father against the American, but it turns out that the injured critic is capable of far more insidious types of revenge than anyone could have imagined after seeing her damaged body. I think. Or maybe it was all a dream.

The film has a great look to it. It was shot near the town of Rotorua, a tourist mecca because of its unusual natural wonders like dramatic waterfalls, geysers, hot mud pools, thermal springs, ancient villages buried by volcanoes, Maori cultural artifacts, and tropical rainforests. It's an especially useful setting for an eerie movie because it appears that sunshine has never touched the place at any time. I once explained my Upstate New York birthplace to an ex-girlfriend of mine by saying that our local dialect doesn't even have a word for "sun." Rotorua is that kind of place - misty, foggy, and perennially overcast. It is made even more sinister by a surfeit of touristy hotels, motels, and shops which vie for the tourist dollars.

If films were entirely about pictures, thus film might have won some major awards, but they aren't, at least not since 1929, and Crush's words aren't as strong as the pictures. The script is laden with heavy-handed literary tropes. For example, the American's impersonation of the New Zealander is foreshadowed clumsily by a scene in which they eat chicken together before the accident and the critic asks her future impersonator, "Do you want my skin?" (She does. Literally and figuratively.) At least that device worked on the real level as well as the symbolic. Too many elements of the film exist on a figurative plane without attempting to make sense in the story's primary reality. One minute the two women are in the crash. The American gets up and walks. Then almost instantly the American is at the author's house, again taking the critic's "skin." WTF? Apparently the scenarist thought no more explanations were necessary. As for the ending ... well, I think I know what happened. Or not. Hard to say. Quirky editing.

In addition to the confusing script, the film is burdened by the fact that Marcia Gay Harden isn't especially convincing as the manipulative and malevolent seductress. This is another effort from her ill-fated "sexy seductress phase" in the early 90s. (See our review of Fever.) In this film she looks less like a femme fatale than a middle-class suburban housewife who watches Oprah every day and wants to shed a few pounds. You can tell that the script must have been written by a woman, because no man would conceive of this character as mysteriously seductive. She's obnoxious, a sloppy drunk, a messy eater, and she talks too much. She doesn't even shut up during sex.

Bottom line: Crush has some merit, especially in the visuals, but it's just trapped somewhere between the world of psychological horror films and the world of hand-wringing arthouse melodramas, and it never really settles into either groove.



  • the transfer is anamorphically enhanced
  • full-length commentary by the auteur and Marcia Gay Harden
  • interview with the auteur
  • the disc also includes a complete version of the director's first film, which was an award-winning short



  • Marcia Gay Harden shows her breasts in two very brief scenes.

  • Donogh Rees flashes a breast while she is in the hospital.

The Critics Vote ...

  • The only major review online is the NY Times, which is linked from the IMDb page.

  • It won four Kiwi Academy Awards - two for acting, two for sound.


The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $108,000 in the USA in very limited arthouse distribution.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a low C-. The film has a fan base and is certainly not without merit, but it's more of an arty, small-audience curiosity piece than a mainstream film.

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