She Monkeys, director Lisa Aschan’s first feature film, may, on first glance, represent itself as a coming of age drama. Look a little closer at this Swedish film, however, and you may find something much more complicated and, at times, sinister.
Emma (Mathilda Paradeiser), one of the aforementioned She Monkeys, joins a local Voltige (Equestrian Vaulting) team and immediately catches the attention of Cassandra (Linda Molin), one of the most confident and accomplished vaulters on the team. They size each other up thoroughly and soon enough become inseparable; messing about dangerously on the swimming pool diving board and practising their vaulting moves together. They meet a couple of likely looking lads while stretching in the children’s swimming pool, as you do, and one of them takes a fancy to Emma.
All four of them meet for a picnic on the beach but Cassandra acts up, seemingly punishing the unsuspecting two for taking the attention away from her. Later on, things between Emma and Cassandra take a turn for the sinister.
A further narrative strand in this story is that of Emma’s little sister Sara (Isabella Lindquist). She is young but just beginning to realise her girlhood, insisting that her supportive dad buys her a brand new bikini (leopard print, natch) and wondering why her cousin Sebastian isn’t in love with her.
What we have here is a well-considered slice of cinematic rivalry; portraying young ladies as driven and cutthroat instead of giggly and boy-obsessed. The seemingly serene Emma is revealed to be a bit of a control freak and the assured Cassandra is softened by her feelings for her teammate, providing a surprising ending.
This is an accomplished first feature film from Lisa Aschan, showcasing good performances from all but especially Mathilda Paradeiser and Isabella Lindquist. The usual stereotypes are considered yet discarded, even in the case of the background male characters. Nothing is usual. All in all, She Monkeys is an attention-grabbing and thought provoking not coming-of-age film.