Movie Review: Juniper Directed by Matthew J. Saville

Juniper is a film family drama written and directed by Matthew J. Saville, exploring death, suicide, grief, alcoholism, mortality and the burdens passed on and created through complex family dynamics and substance abuse.

Sam (George Ferrier) is a lanky, invisible 17-year-old who we first meet on the floor of his boarding school room in existential apathy. He’s collected by his emotionally void father, Robert (Márton Csókás) and driven to their rural family home, where we discover Sam is very actively planning his impending suicide due to unresolved grief over the death of his mother.

Complicating matters is Sam’s grandmother, Ruth (Charlotte Rampling), a middle-of-the-road alcoholic seemingly trapped in both a wheelchair and a fantasy of high-class and day-seizing platitudes, and her nurse-carer-enabler, Nurse Sarah (Edith Poor), who exhibits passive amazement and compliance to Ruth’s madness while taking as little responsibility as possible.


After Robert abandons the trio and flies to England, depressed friction between Sam and Ruth soon turns to angst and predictable bonding, where the latter learns to love life again and the former learns to begin both loving and living for the first time.

Ruth buys Sam clothes, gets him drunk, bribes his friends with alcohol to tidy the yard, gets stoned, tells stories of her past, and shoots shotguns on a picturesque hill, while Sam decides not to kill himself and befriends the family horse and begins day-seizing his way into his own gin-soaked fantasy.

Throughout the film, I was expecting some grim, Requiem For A Dream fever to begin surfacing, where the carefully manufactured and stage-performance quality of both the dialogue and characters would reveal itself to be the final, tragic drops of sanity dripping from the mind of a delusional, war-devastated, mortality-defying alcoholic.

All the main characters, besides Sam, are from England, apparently, despite all having wildly varying strengths and regional origins. Csókás plays Sam’s father with the detached, clinical bite of Hannibal Lecter, Poor delivers a general anaesthetic of a British accent, and Rampling sharpens her wit and bitterness through tired whispers and occasional Upper-Class oration.


None of it feels even remotely authentic, and this is before we’ve really started to meet these characters as people which, for better or worse, we never really do. A small montage of Sam flicking through an old photo album from Ruth’s youth is about the heights of genuine emotion here, where the optimism and tenacity for seizing life are clearly captured and frozen in sepia.

Throughout the film, however, we’re simply given one long, dull and incomplete scene after the next, where characters hang on silence with long pensive pauses between the blandest and dullest of conversations as though to invite introspective thought or add gravity to the situation. These moments just appear unnaturally eccentric and hollow, again feeding the fever-dream madness but seemingly just abandoned or overworked.

Ruth’s weird and inconsistent obsession with class and intelligence and style is so unnatural and forced that it all seems disingenuous. There’s no Lanvin or Chanel, no piles of Kafka, Nietzsche, David Foster Wallace, Cervantes, nothing of any real substance in her room or the house, no conversation that seems even remotely elevated by wisdom or dualistic hedonism. She’s just a vapid, boring old woman in a sweater vest and lace-up shoes talking in uninteresting cliches and pretending to have something worth saying.

This is where, tonally, the film just falls apart. There will no doubt be a handful of wry chuckles at Ruth subverting the loosest of expectations by swearing or saying something so painfully designed to be witty and cutting, but there’s no horror to this scenario, and with the themes on offer, it just feels lightweight, safe, and watered-down. It’s just clean, pretty and tidy, with glimpses of horror and terror beneath the surface that is only ever hinted at or talked about.


Ferrier does a decent job given what he has to work with, but it never feels like Sam grows, or suddenly connects with a wider universe of thought or perspective – he’s just found a new outlet and source for his apathy.

Although there is a wealth of potential in her extremely hedonistic and impulsively reckless character, Rampling barely gets to scratch the surface of Ruth throughout the film’s 90 minutes, and this makes both the story itself and character-development reward we’re expected to receive by the end of the film as palatable as a poorly-mixed gin and tonic.

~ Oxford Lamoureaux

Written and Directed by Matthew J. Saville
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Márton Csókás, George Ferrier, Edith Poor