Dark teenage film kills it
The '80s were a glorious time for the teenage film. But while every good film fanatic has embraced the famed John Hughes teen sagas of sixteenth birthdays as seen in Sixteen Candles, and high school detentions - the basis of '80s classic The Breakfast Club - few have even heard of 1988's dark teenage masterpiece, Heathers. The film, directed by Michael Lehmann, takes an arguably "refreshing" look at the dark canvas which is teenagedom.
Headed by Winona Ryder, the story follows a dark-haired, fast-tongued wallflower named Veronica, who makes it into the clique of Heathers, an elite group of high-school girls. Despite the obvious popularity associated with being a member of the group, Veronica can't seem to accept the dark politics and ridiculous drama of the high-school dynamic. Even before joining the clique, Veronica hates the Heathers and wishes they were dead, although she's initially hesitant to play any sort of murderous role. Yet even she can't predict the way a chance meeting with resident sociopath J.D. (Christian Slater) turns into a string of school murders. This is Mean Girls, only with guns and much less pink.
In Heathers, Lehmann takes the soul of the '80s teen film - the all too familiar tale of the bad boy/good girl - and turns it on its head. The film is one giant theatre of satire, keeping a tongue in its cheek for all 90 minutes. From the film's eccentric title to Veronica's odd position in a group of girls all named Heather, the film is rife with contrived surrealism.
During the movie's very first moments, for instance, J.D. simply stands up and fires a BB gun at two jocks, proving to Veronica and the audience this is going to be far blacker than the average teen romance.
J.D. is able to tap into Veronica's dark side, which has been stifled by the pressures of popularity and conventionality. In this sardonic fashion, the movie carries out its sinister promises with glee, yet at no point do we feel as though the film's humor trespasses into forbidden territory.
Subtle yet substantial details abound. For example, the characters wear one color throughout the entire movie, and as power is transferred, the hues change. Even the odd wide-angle lenses and dark vignettes give the film a dreamlike feel, creating an interesting interplay with the gravity of its themes.
Heathers imagines a world where the outcasts reclaim power. In the universe of this film, they can put cleaning fluid in coffee, serve it to a popular girl, and frame her for suicide. This scene portrays perhaps the darkest element of the movie, which is relevant even now, as it parodies the nonchalant way in which schools and media handle issues of death.
The murdered students become martyrs and are respected for being tragic and courageous. The reasons they die supply the central irony of the movie. As the Heathers die one-by-one the group claims that each dies because of the insufferability of high-school melodrama, but this is the exact reason J.D. and Veronica murder them. Heathers proves to be an insightful, albeit weird, satire of the teen fantasy of the '80s, criticizing the societal image of teenagers.