sex, violence and their shadowy intersections imbue Mo Ogrodnik's debut feature, "Ripe," with restlessness and a high wince quotient. The latest in a slew of low-budget movies honoring female adolescence ("All Over Me," "Manny and Lo," "Girlstown"), "Ripe" is the story of orphaned fraternal twins whose limitless devotion to each other is challenged once men enter their insular, intimate world. Ogrodnik sculpts each scene with a blunt instrument, honing in on the fury and confusion of adolescence with haunting -- if sometimes uneven -- results.
After escaping from the fiery car wreck that kills their parents, Violet (Monica Keena) and Rosie (Daisy Eagan), stow away in the back of a pick-up truck headed for an Army base. Pete (Gordon Currie), the handsome groundskeeper, agrees to let the girls stay at his ramshackle house and soon becomes Violet's object of desire and Rosie's nemesis.
The script is wildly uneven. Some scenes are impossibly unrealistic -- such as the car crash that miraculously leaves the girls physically and mentally unscathed. Save for the opening scene where their father engages them in a horrifying game of hide and seek, Ogrodnik reveals few clues about the girls' sordid past. Rosie's elegy to her dead father is simple and to the point: "Our dad was a real motherfucker." But is this enough to explain Rosie's violent outbursts and the desperate, near-incestuous love she feels for her sister? Other moments, as when Violet loses her virginity, feel eerie and raw. The camera captures Violet's small body swallowed beneath Pete's muscular frame, and the knotted, confused expression that asks, "Isn't this supposed to feel good?"
Ogrodnik presents the girls as archetypes, not individuals. Scruffy and short-haired Rosie, the fearless, gun-loving tomboy, kills small animals with gleeful abandon and dismisses men with a flip of her middle-finger. Violet is the ingenue, attracting male attention with the flirtatious flip of her hair or the flutter of her eyelashes. She is a luminous, fresh young thing, and she knows it.
Ogrodnik manages to both celebrate and exploit the female coming-of-age angle in "Ripe." In one scene, the camera zooms in on Violet masturbating with a pile of pornographic magazines, relishing her body without apology. Even though her sister interrupts her, this is a celebratory moment -- simply because it's there. Ogrodnik flouts Hollywood's discomfort with adolescent female sexuality, demanding that her audience lean in and get used to the idea that young girls are sensuous, deeply sexual beings. Problem is, startling moments like this are intertwined with scenes where the camera lustfully follows after the girls bodies, mimicking the ogling men at the Army base. The twins' budding breasts bounce beneath their skimpy tank tops and their bare, tan legs stretch seductively from their cutoffs in nearly every scene. Can female sexuality be honored and eyeballed at the same time?
Mostly, though, Ogrodnik captures the complexity of the woman/girl. In the film's most arresting moment, Violet is perched on the toilet seat in tears, after Pete has discovered the blood-soiled underwear that she tried to flush away. He leans in close, gently reassuring her that it happens to every woman, then suddenly launches a come-on: "I think you're really beautiful." Soon the pair are locked in a kiss. In one fell swoop, Violet is indoctrinated into the messy, seductive world of womanhood.
Rosie watches from an open window while Pete and Violet have sex for the first time. Furious and betrayed, she disappears into the base, where she witnesses a group of drunken soldiers engaging in a homoerotic group ritual. Not unwillingly, she winds up against a wall, skirt hiked up, having sex with an older man -- just like her sister. When the night is through, the twins lie back to back in their raggedy bed, wide awake, fully changed.
There are no happy endings here -- not even a glimmer of hope. For Violet and Rosie, all of life looks like it might be a brutal, protracted adolescence.
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