'Emanuel And The Truth About Fishes' Review: A Dark And Surprising Tale Of Loss, Family And Recovery [Sundance 2013]

There's a moment about 15 minutes into Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes where writer/director Francesca Gregorini hooks you in. At the start you meet Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario), a beautiful, damaged girl with a super sharp wit. Then Linda (Jessica Biel) moves in next door. She's beautiful too, of course, and a new mother, and you're probably thinking this movie is already predictable.

But then Gregorini does something so unexpected, so creepy, so darkly hilarious that you can't help but be 100% on board for the ride. And where she takes you is a really nice place to be. Read more after the jump.

I'm not going to reveal what that twist is. It's a first act twist and knowing it wouldn't ruin the movie by any means, but it does suck you into the story in a way few films do, and surprise is always best.

What I will say is it's a fascinating way to being to tell a story of loss, and of family. Emanuel is a very interesting character, a woman who deals every day with the fact that her mother died during childbirth. She loves her father (Alfred Molina) but still resents him and doesn't get along too well with her stepmom (Frances O'Connor). She even lies about having a boyfriend (Aneurin Barnard). And Scodelario plays this perfectly. She has to, really, because if we don't simultaneously love and hate her character, we'll never understand and question her decisions along the way.

Not only is Gregorini's script truly original and poignant, her direction is gorgeous, framing beautiful suburban houses with incredible light and infusing just enough surrealism into the film to almost make it feel like a dream.

All of which has nothing to do with fishes. That titular reference comes in as a dream Emanuel has about being free. Later, it plays a role in the film's climax, which is one of the biggest problems with the movie. Gregorini has created a solid story here with very watchable characters, yet when the fish stuff happens, it feels forced and takes away from the incredible moment where you get hooked into this story and these characters. Emanuel and the Truth about Fishes is an interesting, surprising movie that doesn't exactly stick the landing but is worth your time none the less.

/Film rating: 7.5 out of 10