2018 Film Essays

Escapism in Dark Places: How ‘Allure’ Accurately Captures Despair

Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s Allure might be one of the most beautifully distressing movies of the past year. But while viewers can easily identify the film’s intended effect, not many could’ve predicted the timely nature of its release.

Considering Allure’s dark aesthetic and abusive character dynamics, the narrative is both risky and challenging, but it’s one that affects same-sex relationships. Thankfully, Allure never ventures into gratuitous and exploitative territory, nor does it feature negative tropes about lesbians. Instead, the filmmakers impressively capture the inherent narrative dilemma, complemented by its raw intensity and gorgeous cinematography. The unlikely attraction-turned-obsession dynamic between Laura (Evan Rachel Wood) and Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) is difficult to forget, and it will make one think twice about life decisions and friend selections. While abuse is the central theme of Allure, the remarkable depiction of despair stands out most, and how that feeling leads one to look for a way out of the darkness.


In the film’s opening scene, Laura has a rough sexual encounter with a blindfolded man. Immediately, there’s no mistaking her abusive nature, as her views on love and intimacy are clearly twisted. This behavior is linked to her father’s abuse, and the relationship continues to be dysfunctional as a result. Laura’s actions suggest that her despair has reached a dark place, preventing her from finding the will to move forward.

For quiet 16-year-old Eva, her cold and controlling mother has engulfed her world with loneliness. The girl enjoys playing piano — an outlet where she can find her voice — but her mother even finds a way to control that, too. Laura works for her father’s house cleaning company, which is how she meets Eva. While on the job, she casually walks into Eva’s bedroom to compliment her about a Nirvana poster. The two bond and decide to live together. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for Laura to become controlling and obsessive towards Eva.

Laura attempts to manipulate Eva’s every thought, tricking her into believing that her compulsive lies are a means of security. She also targets the young girl’s loneliness, convincing her that no one cares for or listens to her. The more this cycle of abuse continues, the more viewers learn about how broken the two characters truly are. Laura might not be aware of the torment she causes due to how damaged she is inside. But as she’s never experienced genuine love, destruction is all she’s capable of releasing. The attention that she gives Eva, albeit disturbing, gives a feeling of validation to the girl. Someone is finally listening to and noticing her. It’s enticing to receive attention when one isn’t used to it — especially as a teenager — and that longing for attention drags Eva into Laura’s grasp. She knows deep down that her relationship with Laura is wrong, but she refuses to leave, even when given the chance.

Dealing with immense trauma can cloud one’s mind, driving despair deeper until it completely controls the mind. As a result, one may try to quickly escape the feeling. Both Laura and Eva come from places of agony, and they initially feel like their newfound connection will cure their issues. But little do they know that their arrangement will only grow more toxic with each moment together.

Towards the end of Allure, Eva and Laura realize their despair has gone too deep. Eva gets the urge to break away from her abuser, while Laura comes to terms with her emptiness. The film’s conclusion leaves the characters’ destinations completely unknown. Viewers will instantly wonder where Eva ran off to, or who she will come into contact with next. For Laura, her potential recovery remains a complete mystery. Once despair becomes conscious, there is an ambiguity of where to turn next in life, which the character’s last moments on screen illustrate.

The film’s eerie lighting enhances the overall chilling atmosphere, adding to Laura and Eva’s darkest emotions. Taking on such roles requires an immense amount of bravery, which Wood and Stone clearly display through their acting. They completely immerse themselves in their characters, making Laura and Eva’s lives and experiences richer.

Allure explores how despair can negatively affect one’s mind, and what occurs when that despair leads to a destructive form of escapism. Its realistic depiction of how trauma, mental illness and abuse can drown an individual deserves to be talked about for years to come.

Ciara Pitts (@CiaraNPitts) is a lesbian freelance writer, music enthusiast and web designer with an obsession for film analysis and LGBTQ+ cinema. Her all-time favorite films include Thelma, Mulholland Drive, Call Me by Your Name and Bound. She has previously contributed to AfterEllen and GO Magazine.