POISON IVY marks the entry of yet another pair of Roger Corman graduates--writer/director Katt Shea Ruben and her co-writer/producer/former husband Andy--into the mainstream. Ruben's work, which includes STRIPPED TO KILL, DANCE OF THE DAMNED and STREETS, has always emphasized mood and
characterization over cheap thrills, and her new film is no exception.
The ad campaign, suggesting that Ivy (Drew Barrymore) covets her best friend's perfect life, is rather misleading; indeed, it is the fact that young Sylvie Cooper (Sara Gilbert) covets Ivy's freedom that leads them to connect. Sylvie's father Darryl (Tom Skerritt) is distant and neglectful, both
of Sylvie and his wife Georgie (Cheryl Ladd), who is bedridden with emphysema. So rebellious Sylvie takes up with free spirit Ivy, who at first appears to be the only person she can trust. Soon, Ivy has insinuated herself into the Cooper family, spending all her time with Sylvie and also
attracting the attention of Darryl. When Ivy contrives to take Sylvie's place helping Darryl host a cocktail party at his house, he ultimately succumbs to her charms, unable to resist the seduction even when Georgie discovers them in a clinch.
The unbalanced Ivy has been scheming to take Georgie's place--figuratively in Sylvie's life, literally in Darryl's--and completes her goal by causing Georgie to fall to her death from an upstairs window. When Ivy later takes Sylvie for a drive in Georgie's prized old Corvette, Sylvie begins to
realize Ivy's responsibility in the death, and Ivy then crashes the car, leaving an unconscious Sylvie to appear responsible. After Darryl comes to visit her in the hospital and refuses to accept her claims about Ivy's true nature, Sylvie sneaks home to discover Ivy and her father making love. But
Darryl is ultimately convinced of the truth, and after confronting Sylvie in Georgie's room, Ivy suffers the same fatal plunge from the window.
Although it's not as viscerally explicit as the subject matter promises, POISON IVY succeeds by creating psychologically compelling characters and situations that are more unnerving than out-and-out shocking. Not the least of its achievements was providing a perfect role to allow Drew Barrymore to
make her transition into mature, adult roles; even though her title character is a teenager, she's more self-aware and cunning than anyone else in the film. Although she never has an outright nude scene, she manages to project a seductive, erotic aura that works to the story's advantage.
The potential for the film to lapse into a cliched teenage version of HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE is skillfully avoided by the Rubens, who give all of their characters identifiable flaws and needs that Ivy can exploit. When it becomes clear that Ivy's up to no good, Ruben doesn't overplay her
villainy, preferring to make her exploits more disturbing than jump-out-and-scare-you frightening. As a result, POISON IVY doesn't exactly keep one at the edge of one's seat throughout, but it certainly holds the interest.
Barrymore's effectively played combination of convincing pathology and precocious sexuality helps carry the film, and Gilbert is equally fine as the confused, conflicted Sylvie. Skerritt and Ladd do well enough in the secondary adult roles, but the most valuable support is provided by
cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. A holdover from Ruben's Corman days, Papamichael drenches POISON IVY with atmosphere without resorting to conventional thriller lighting schemes. His work is striking but never obvious, a quality shared by most of the rest of the film.
Right down to Sylvie's final voiceover, which seems to be referring to one character but may actually be talking about another, POISON IVY strikes a pleasing balance between emotion and ambiguity. (Violence, sexual situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: POISON IVY marks the entry of yet another pair of Roger Corman graduates--writer/director Katt Shea Ruben and her co-writer/producer/former husband Andy--into the mainstream. Ruben's work, which includes STRIPPED TO KILL, DANCE OF THE DAMNED and STREETS, h… (more)