Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Heaven (dir by Paul Shapiro)


So, let’s say that you’re an alcoholic, backwoods hillbilly living in West Virginia.  Everyone in town hates you and your family because, years ago, your father sold a bad batch of moonshine to the mayor’s son.  You’ve got more children than you know what to do with and your wife has just run out on you because she’s blames you for losing her latest baby.  You ain’t got no money and you don’t understand that ain’t no word used by proper folks.  What do you do to make ends meet?

Well, if you’re Luke Casteel (Chris William Martin), you sell your children.  You sell the twins to a couple who can’t have children.  You sell your son to a farmer in Virginia.  You sell one of your daughters to the pervy local priest.  And you keep your oldest daughter, Heaven (Annalise Basso), so that she can clean the house and do the laundry.

Of course, Heaven’s not very happy about this arrangement.  She’s way smarter than the average Casteel and she’s got a crush on a boy at school named Logan Stonewall (James Rittinger).  Everyone keeps telling Logan to stay away from the Casteels and it’s certainly not going to help the family’s reputation once it gets out that Luke’s been selling off his children.

Luke has always resented Heaven, mostly because she’s the daughter of Angel, the only woman that Luke ever truly loved.  Angel was from a rich family in Boston but they disowned her when she married Luke.  Unfortunately, Angel then died giving birth to Heaven.  If that’s not bad enough, Heaven has now grown up to look exactly like her mother which leads to Luke getting drunk and trying to climb into bed with her….

AGCK!

Realizing that Heaven won’t be safe as long as she’s living with him, Luke decides to quit drinking and get his shit together.  JUST KIDDING!  Instead, he decides to sell her too.  He sells her to Kitty (Julie Benz) and Cal (Chris McNally).  Kitty is emotionally unpredictable and alternates between being extremely supportive and extremely cruel.  (She’s also obsessed with keeping her house spotless and really who can blame her?  A house should be clean because you never know who might come by.)  Cal is a sexually frustrated writer who smiles every time that he’s alone with Heaven.

Can you guess what happens?

Heaven is based on a book by V.C. Andrews, the first part of the five-volume Casteel Saga.  A few years ago, Lifetime had a lot of success when they adapted Flowers In the Attic and its sequels so it only makes sense that they would eventually bring the Casteel Saga to screen.  Heaven has everything that you would expect from both V.C. Andrews and Lifetime — melodrama, over the top dialogue, sex, dysfunctional families, and one victimized girl searching for her destiny.

At first, when I started watching Heaven, the film itself seemed to a bit silly.  I mean, I took one look at Casteels mountain shack and I started laughing because it was seriously the nicest shack that I’ve ever seen in my life.  (On Lifetime, even poor hillbillies live in a big house.)  It was also hard not to be amused about how, every few minutes, some primly-dressed townsperson would pop up and say something like, “Logan Stonewall!  You get away from those Casteels!”  As the film went on, though, it became obvious that the film itself had a very self-aware sensibility.  It understood that it was an over-the-top, frequently ludicrous melodrama so, instead of trying to trick us into believing it to be anything else, it instead embraced the melodramatic label and everything that it implied.  This is not a film that’s mean to be taken seriously.  Instead, for the first hour or so, it’s a bit of a self-aware parody.  It’s like Winter’s Bone directed by Paul Feig.

The second half of the film, which finds Heaven living with Kitty and Cal, has a bit more of an edge to it, largely due to Julie Benz’s wonderfully unhinged performance as Kitty.  Benz brings a jolt of real menace to both the role and the film itself.  That’s a good thing because winking at the audience and letting them know that you’re in on the joke can only take you so far.  Julie Benz shows up and basically announces, “Yes, this may be an overheated adaptation of a V.C. Andrews novel but don’t even think about letting your guard down!”

All in all, it makes for an entertaining Lifetime film.  While it may not be a powerful as Flowers in the Attic, it still holds your attention and Annalise Basso gives a good and sympathetic performance as Heaven.  Myself, I related to Heaven because we both have red hair.  Seriously, it’s not always being a redhead.

Heaven was followed by Dark Angel, which I’ll be reviewing later today.