Being a horror buff, I’m familiar with the career of famed Italian horror director Dario Argento. Being a film buff, I’m also familiar with career of his daughter Asia Argento. You may remember her as playing the hot Euro chick opposite Vin Diesel in XXX. Her very first appearance in one of her father’s films was a rape scene and this was only the beginning of her strange and somewhat disturbing film career. Her second film, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, is no exception. In a word… disturbing.
The film begins with a young boy, Jeremiah, being taken away from his foster parents now that his biological mother, Sarah, has finally come to reclaim him. We quickly learn that Sarah is a troubled girl with a penchant for drugs and abusive relationships. Jeremiah has been dragged away from a loving foster family to follow his junky mother around the country looking for the next boyfriend or the next score. Jeremiah must learn to cope with the fact that his life will be hard and that he will never again see the quiet suburban family life he was raised in.
The film succeeds quite nicely at its intended purpose. Life can be very hard and the self-destructive behavior of some can make it even harder. Every form of child abuse is depicted or implied – whether it’s physical, verbal, sexual, or simply neglect. While the movie covers these very dark themes, it never pushes them so far as to make the film unwatchable. Humanity’s darker side is shown but not focused on, since the main focus of the movie is watching how Jeremiah learns to cope with a life that none would choose. One of the most interesting parts of the movie was catching little insights regarding how the abusers justified their behavior. Sarah’s verbal abuse stems from her belief that Jeremiah ruined her life, the physical abuser just wants to raise Jeremiah “right” just like his father raised him, etc.
My biggest issue with the film though, is whether all of this is really entertainment. Does this story really need to be told? The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things provides an interesting look into parenting’s seedy underbelly, but the film lacks any attempt at a moral statement of some kind. Instead of leaving me with a “child abuse is horrible” feeling, I’m simply left with a “that kid has amazing coping skills” feeling. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that the movie never claimed to teach any sort of moral lesson, only to tell a very dark story. In that, it succeeded.
I believe the strongest quality of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things can be found in the cast. Jimmy Bennett was fantastic and extremely believable as Jeremiah. Asia Argento never fails to impress with her acting talents. Her ability to play both the Madonna and the whore with equal finesse continues to astound me. The film also has great supporting performances by character actors like Jeremy Renner, Peter Fonda, Marilyn Manson, and Matt Shulze. The cast really held this film together. Their realistic performances reminded me that they weren’t playing fictional characters so much as real life archetypes. This story could be happening right next door, right now.
Although sometimes disturbing, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things remains interesting. Although interesting, the movie never managed to become truly entertaining for me. I recommend the film to anyone wanting a true to life depiction of child abuse and bad parenting and fans of Asia Argento, gritty cinema, good character acting, or the darker side of independent film. I don’t recommend this movie to abuse victims or anyone hoping for a shiny, happy ending.
Final Grade: C-
The Upside: A gritty, real, disturbing, unsettling, and interesting look at skewed morals backed by above par character acting.
The Downside: A disturbing and unsettling look at child abuse that spirals farther and farther down into despair.
On the Side: The movie is based on a book by Laura Albert. She used the pen name J. (Jeremiah) T. Leroy to write a fake autobiography about the abuse that he (J.T.) suffered as a child.
By Jarvis Mishler, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects