Nominated for the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival in 2011, She Monkeys is an intriguing debut from Swedish filmmaker Lisa Aschan about the intensely competitive relationship between two young women teetering on the cusp of adulthood. Emma dreams of joining the local equestrian acrobatics team, practising diligently in her sparsely furnished bedroom in the house that she shares with her precocious seven-year-old sister Sara and their father (we never learn what’s happened to their mother, although her unexplained absence is clearly a disturbing factor in their lives). When Emma succeeds in making the equestrian team, she’s befriended by the attractive, worldly Cassandra. It’s soon clear who is in control; Cassandra is a bully, and the prank that she plays on a young man who’s interested in Emma is painfully cruel. But a fatal moment of vulnerability on Cassandra’s part leads to a twist in their power struggle, and the discovery that Emma is perhaps not as innocent and vulnerable as she first seems.
It’s an original retelling of the coming-of-age story, but what makes She Monkeys so remarkable are the performances delivered by the non-professional actresses, Mathilda Paradeiser, Linda Molin and Isabella Lindquist, who is simply astonishing as Sara, a child far too young to be grappling with her sexuality. It’s a compelling, disquieting watch that earned Aschan the top narrative prize at the Tribeca Film Festival.