Disturbing and cruel, “When It Melts” is a challenging, demanding, and emotionally painful film about the tragic consequences of intense childhood trauma. Based on the novel “The Melting” by Lize Spit, director Veerle Baetens‘ feature debut is provocative, distressing, and extremely effective. It was my favorite film out of Sundance this year, but it’s certainly not one that is easy to watch.
Eva (Charlotte De Bruyne) is fragile and alone, struggling to get through her day-to-day life. When she sees a social media post announcing a memorial celebration for a childhood friend, she returns to the small village where she grew up. This brings up disturbing memories of abuse and torment for Eva as she wrestles with the darkest secrets of her past. With an ice block in the back of her car, Eva tries to find the courage to not only confront the horrors of her childhood, but to finally stand up to the ones who victimized her all those years ago.
Baetens tells her story with powerful flashbacks, traveling back to a time of adolescent innocence when young Eva (Rosa Marchant) and her older friends Tim (Anthony Vyt) and Laurens (Matthijs Meertens) would spend their summers together. Going swimming and riding bikes was the order of the day until one year, Laurens and Tim decided to teach her how to play a riddle game. It seems harmless at first, until the targets of the game become local girls, and cruelly humiliating them becomes the objective. With hormones in control and a desire to be accepted, Eva agrees to play along.
The film has excellent pacing that builds tension. You’re just waiting for something disturbing to happen both to the younger and older Eva, and Baetens builds upon a great deal of apprehension that keeps viewers on edge. When it’s finally revealed what happened in Eva’s past, it’s absolutely sickening, and what happens in the present is an absolute extension of that childhood tragedy. It’s a story that delicately handles the all-consuming emotional distress that occurs when severe childhood trauma resurfaces in adulthood. Those scars are never left behind.
Most of the film takes place in the past when Eva was a 13-year-old girl, and Marchant gives an exceptional, effective performance in a highly demanding role. She captures the feeling of budding adolescence, a confusing time when your mind and body are going through disquieting and oftentimes frightening changes. Eva wants to continue being just one of the guys, but her feelings towards Tim and Laurens are starting to change. She’s becoming interested in boys in a sexual way, and it’s tearing them all apart.
SPOILER ALERT: SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN’T YET SEEN THE FILM. While the ending is tragic, the scorn that Eva faces after being sexually assaulted is infuriating. Even more agonizing is that she is expected to suffer in shame, alone. It’s heartbreaking yet feels very real, and it’s a feeling that I’ve not been able to shake after viewing this film.
“When It Melts” is extremely upsetting and heart-wrenching film about trauma’s eventual path to further tragedy. It’s a nontraditional coming-of-age film that’s also paints a cruel portrait of toxic adolescence. It’s thoroughly unsettling, but powerful.
By: Louisa Moore