“My name is Emanuel,” says the protagonist at the start of Francesca Gregorini’s loopy psychological thriller. “I’m 17 years old, and I killed my mother.”
This last bit is less provocative than you may think. Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) isn’t a murderer. Her mother died in childbirth, and Emanuel has been pouting ever since, or so we gather from her sullen relationship with her father (Alfred Molina) and stepmother (Frances O’Connor).
Conveniently, motherlessness has left Emanuel with no friends or hobbies or interests, so she has plenty of time to become entranced by the family’s new neighbor Linda (Jessica Biel), a single mom who dotes on her infant daughter and bears a resemblance to the mother Emanuel never knew.
We know that something mysterious and meaningful will happen between these two young women: In Gregorini’s world, nobody ever just takes out the trash or runs to the store to buy milk or turns on the hose to wash the car. Every moment is filled with portent, and if you don’t believe me just listen to the Serious Piano Music in the background.
The film struggles hard to be dark and edgy but undermines the few things in its favor. There’s something off about Linda — or is Emanuel the one who’s crazy? Is either of them disturbed? Are both?
The movie sets up the question and then swiftly resolves the tension with a trick too silly for the characters to sustain or the audience to take seriously. There’s no real sense of threat or danger, and so you wait for another twist. But the arsenal is empty, and there’s nowhere for The Truth About Emanuel to go except — unfortunately — downhill.
Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel, Alfred Molina, Frances O’Connor.
Director: Francesca Gregorini
Screenwriter: Francesca Gregorini, Sarah Thorp.
Producers: Francesca Gregorini, Rooney Mara.
Running time: 96 minutes. Playing in Miami-Dade only: Sunset.