To truly be effective, Angel of Mine would either have to be far better or far worse than it actually is. Despite the excellent lead performances by Noomi Rapace, in her most substantial role since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, and Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale), Kim Farrant’s psychological thriller, a remake of the 2008 French film L’empreinte de L’Ange, lacks the depth to be taken seriously or the cheesiness to be enjoyed guiltily. Instead, it mainly comes across with a numbing predictability that extends even to its attemptedly shocking late-act plot revelation.
In the Melbourne, Australia-set film, Rapace plays Lizzie, whose life has been in an emotional shambles since the death several years earlier of her little girl in a hospital fire. She’s involved in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband Mike (Luke Evans, wasted in a thankless role) over their young son Thomas (Finn Little, Storm Boy). And she’s unable to resume a romantic life, as vividly illustrated during a first date with an obviously interested man (Rob Collins) that goes disastrously wrong when they begin having sex.
It’s therefore not surprising, then, when the still-grieving Lizzie becomes fixated on Lola (Annika Whiteley), the little sister of one of Thomas’ friends who she first spots at a birthday party. Lola bears a remarkable physical resemblance to her deceased daughter — so much so that Lizzie becomes convinced that Lola is in in fact the child she considered to be lost forever.
In an effort to become close to the little girl, Lizzie ingratiates herself with her parents Claire (Strahovski) and Bernard (Richard Roxburgh); first by pretending to be interested in buying their house, and then by befriending Claire. The ruse works for a while, with Lizzie taking the opportunity to spend time with Lola under more or less natural circumstances. But her obsession eventually becomes so consuming that she essentially begins stalking the family, with Claire becoming increasingly frightened by Lizzie’s irrational behavior.
Despite the strong efforts of director Farrant, who mined similar emotionally dark territory in her 2015 thriller Strangerland starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes, Angel of Mine never works up much suspense. Even such would-be Hitchcockian set pieces as Lizzie taking Lola on an isolated canoe ride fail to generate much tension, especially since it’s obvious that she never intends any actual harm to the little girl. Lizzie’s obsession manifests itself in ways that prove more repetitive than interesting, resulting in the viewer beginning to feel the same frustration with her as the character’s ex-husband and concerned elderly parents (Tracey Mann and Pip Miller, both excellent). The formulaic quality of the proceedings feels particularly disappointing considering that the film’s screenplay was co-written by Luke Davies, whose previous credits include the far better Lion and Beautiful Boy. (On the other hand, his collaborator, David Regal, has written scripts for such children’s television shows as Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys.)
That Angel of Mine works to the extent that it does is largely due to the superb performances by Rapace, movingly conveying her character’s emotional desolation and neediness, and Strahovski, very effective as the fiercely protective Claire. Perhaps outshining them both, however, is child actress Whiteley, whose huge, endlessly expressive eyes are equally good at communicating terror and tenderness.
Production companies: Magna Entertainment, Garlin Pictures, R7 Entertainment, Rockaway Films, SixtyFourSixty
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Yvonne Strahovski, Luke Evans, Richard Rosburgh, Finn Little, Annika Whiteley, Tracey Mann, Pip Miller
Director: Kim Farrant
Screenwriters: Luke Davies, David Regal
Producers: Brian Etting, Josh Etting, Su Armstrong
Executive producers: Brian Rosen, Ian Kirk, Michael Saint-Jean, Noomi Rapace, Luke Davies, Andrew Kotliar, Elizabeth Zavoyskiy, Joshua Sason
Director of photography: Andrew Commis
Production designer: Ruby Mathers
Editor: Jack Hutchings
Composer: Gabe Noel
Costume designer: Sophie Fletcher
Casting: Allison Meadows, Mullinar Casting Consultants
Rated R, 98 minutes