When I read the blurb for this film I almost immediately had the review written for a lesbian coming-of-age drama, a tale of forbidden love and strange emotions, but this was most definitely not the case, and turned out to be the film’s strongest point. This is a ‘gay-interest’ movie where gay sexuality and resulting prejudice aren’t the main focus. Instead, She Monkeys is a tale of the struggle for power that happens in many relationships.

She Monkey’s protagonist is a teenage girl named Emma, who lives with her father and younger sister. Emma is an equestrian gymnast, and on the first day of training she meets a taller, more experienced girl named Cassandra whom many would say is also more typically beautiful. The casting of these two roles took four months as they had to find girls who could act as well as perform the physical feats necessary for the gymnastic scenes. Cassandra immediately asserts herself as the one in control, pushing Emma off the high dive, and generally making her do exactly what she wants. Training is an over-arching theme for this film, which opens with the sound of a clicker being used to train a dog. Later we see Cassandra training Emma, in gymnastics, as well as steering her away from a boy and towards herself.

One of the opening scenes showing the father in bed with Sara, the younger sister, scratching her tummy as she falls asleep, would have no place in a mainstream film, and created visible unrest among the audience. The film thrives on this discomfort, showing the viewer situations which would, in all too many films, end horribly, such as Emma and Cassandra priming their pellet gun while Sara meanders around the corner, unseen by the girls, but perfectly framed in the viewer’s gaze. She Monkeys stuck to many indie cliches such as lingering shots attempting to catch the meaning of tiny interactions, or seriously awkward situations shoved into the viewer’s face. Although it had countless opportunities to manipulate viewers with sickening emotional cliches, it always shied away from rather than took advantage of the viewer in a Spielbergian manner. Instead of a tense soundtrack and speedy camera work, the edits and music never overstated the events on screen.

The strongest and most engaging performance was delivered by Sara, whom you see exhibiting Emma’s problems of hiding emotions when they should be spilling out. She was also the only real comic relief, often in the form of her skewed views of sexuality and love, such as when she tries to get her baby-sitter cousin to come to bed with her, while clicking the dog trainer, again touching on the idea of training the ones you love.

Researching the director, Lisa Aschan, gave some insight into the film’s stranger aspects. This is Aschan’s mainstream directorial debut, and was funded by the Swedish Film Institute’s Rookie Project, so perhaps the overall understatedness can be attributed to a young blood’s unique style. Another viewing would certainly reveal more of the hidden nuances the film holds, but as entertainment this film falls well below the mark. There was a distinct lack of emotion throughout, from any of the characters, which made Emma’s introversion seem less odd, and more like the norm for Swedish teenagers, who (it would seem) rarely smile, and are never fazed by even the strangest of events. There were few scenes where voices were raised, or feelings shared.  Perhaps this is the point of the film, where the meaning must be derived from the detail shots, of the smallest touches and faintest smirks, but from a mainstream point of view the film asked too much of its audience.  All but the most astute of audiences will come away from the film confused and uncomfortable, not sure if a lesson was learned or a point was made.

She Monkeys is out on 18th May.

Words by Oskar Lindblom

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Lisa Aschan, Oskar Lindblom, She Monkeys,