When It Melts, 2023.
Directed by Veerle Baetens.
Starring Charlotte De Bruyne, Rosa Marchant, Sebastien Dewaele, Naomi Vellisariou, Amber Metdepenningen, Anthony Vyt, Matthijs Meertens, Charlotte Van Der Eecken, Femke Van Der Steen, Simon Van Buyten, Olga Leyers, and Spencer Bogaert.
Many years after a sweltering summer that spun out of control, Eva returns to the village she grew up in with an ice block in the back of her car. In the dead of winter, she confronts herself with her past and faces up to her tormentors.
First-time filmmaker Veerle Baetens has a highly controversial piece of art on her hands with When It Melts. It’s about trauma, so hyper-focused on the build-up and horrific incidents along the way that by the time the most unsettling interaction comes around, viewers are traumatized themselves, still left wondering more about the central character in the present day, how she coped, and who she became, and how she is still affected. Essentially, it’s a bit too narrow in its perspective. Some might even find themselves asking if what’s depicted here is morally ethical and what psychological safety practices were employed on set.
Simultaneously, the film (which is co-written by Veerle Baetens and Maarten Loix, based on the book by Lize Spit) does feel uncomfortably authentic in its portrayal of a broken home (an alcoholic mother and abusive father) and inept supervision over a 13-year-old girl that would take her down a road of looking to fit in with her friends by any reprehensible means necessary. Make no mistake about it; the girl is still the victim, but not without her shockingly cruel complicity in some mean-spirited games.
Eva (Rosa Marchant) loves spending time with her two best friends Laurens (Simon Van Buyten) and the slightly older Tim (Anthony Vyt). Referred to by grown-ups as the Three Musketeers, the kids are still moving on from the death of Tim’s older brother Jan, who clearly grounded them and kept them out of trouble (he perhaps did the most parenting out of anyone).
Unsurprisingly, the boys are also beginning to take a more sexually charged interest in girls, devising a game to play with any girl who expresses interest; there’s a riddle, and for every incorrect guess at the solution, the girl must remove an article of clothing until she is naked (don’t worry, there is no actual nudity here but certain stretches could certainly be argued as exploitative.) The boys also like having Eva around during the game, as they think it makes the girls more comfortable, but once they realize the endgame, they are anything but down to play.
Further complicating things is that Eva is also having a sexual awakening, frustrated that Tim, with whom she finds an emotional connection, finds her too young (while Eva is 13, everyone remarks that she looks roughly 10.) This causes Eva to strike up a friendship with the horseback riding girl the boys are attracted to because her chest is more developed, learning how to do makeup and shake up her wardrobe, all to get Tim interested.
These are actually the flashbacks throughout When It Melts, which take up the majority of the running time but are broken up by brief scenes depicting an adult Eva (Charlotte De Bruyne), who has a fractured relationship with her parents and sister, has been broken down by something horrific we can sense coming from the flashbacks, and might be out for revenge or speaking out publicly about whatever transpired.
Visually, the area has an appropriately bleak and cold color palette fitting for how traumatized and mentally unwell Eva has been for years, a stark contrast to the sunny weather during her childhood innocence lost. It also would have been welcome if the filmmakers were interested in showing Eva’s adult life more, providing additional context into who she is now and more about how the trauma has affected her (although there is one scene where she jumps into offering a man a blowjob for calling her boring.)
While When It Melts does command a vice-like grip as its crudeness plays out, it does feel like there should be more balance to the story halves being told. However, if you have an iron stomach and don’t mind seeing the depths of vileness teenagers can go to (whether it be from unhealthy living environments or their own nastiness), When It Melts is an unflinchingly devastating story about child sexual assault from a unique angle where one of the many victims is also a bit of a monster. It’s unshakable and unforgettably disturbing; s case can be made for justifying its existence or labeling everyone involved as possibly irresponsible for making it. But it is wholly horrifying and compelling with purpose.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com