Deborah Haywood’s debut is a remarkable look at the effects bullying can have at school and all the way through to adulthood. The phycological harm inflicted on its victims is never shyed away from and the film is unrelentingly upsetting but, more importantly, Pin Cushion feels raw, visceral and unlike anything I’ve seen for a long time.
Iona (Lily Newmark) and her mother Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) move to a new house which in turn means Iona has to start a new school. Both of them have a super close relationship to one another and because of Lyn’s hunchback, it means Iona has lived a very sheltered life, meaning she’s an easy target. Pin Cushion presents them exactly as most other films would, only it manages to not poke fun at their eccentrics and instead makes you see the best in them. One of the key elements to do with Pin Cushion’s success is down to the fact you are not only believing in the characters, but also feeling every single moment of their pain.
…you are not only believing in the characters, but also feeling every single moment of their pain.
Without delving too much into what happens on Iona’s first day, the tone is set from the moment she has her first class. It’s uncomfortable to watch at times, but the film is only getting started down a dark and miserable path. What follows are events that become nastier and more upsetting as time progresses. This isn’t the typical high school bullying we’re used to seeing in films. Instead, it’s a much more realistic and horrific reminder of what really happens. The physiological torment it has on Iona plays a big part, but what’s also heartbreaking is the fact it still takes a toll on her mother as well. She’s had to deal with what’s come before in her past, as well as the harsh reality that adulthood still has bullies. The misconception many people have that once you leave school bullying ceases to exist is addressed head on. At times, what Lyn goes through is worse than her daughter’s torment. Both of them have one overarching feeling that stays constant throughout; helplessness.
The misconception many people have that once you leave school bullying ceases to exist is addressed head on.
There’s always more than one side to people and Pin Cushion’s screenplay shows this off while also playing with your expectations. We get a hint that one of the bullies wants a fresh start but her upbringing makes her feel she has to be horrible. Yet, we never once get a sense she’s going to change her ways. Iona never once loses our sympathy, but she makes her fair share of mistakes and causes a lot of anguish for her mother. Even when certain characters look like they’ll be a refreshingly nice person, they revert to basic human instincts and pile on more misery to our leads. Almost simultaneously, you see the worst in humanity while also understanding why people act in such awful ways. It’s magnificently crafted, making the audience feel terrible but unable to look away.
Almost simultaneously, you see the worst in humanity while also understanding why people act in such awful ways.
The two leads are both stunningly tragic. Lily Newmark is an actor to definitely keep an eye on after her turn as Iona. She plays her with such conviction and portrays what could’ve be seen as a nuisance in other hands as a tragic, sympathetic soul. Her biggest crime is wanting to fit in, and allowing herself to be taken advantage of to the point of no return is heartbreaking to watch. Joanna Scanlan is the standout however. Lyn’s arc is beautifully written by Deborah Haywood, but Scanlan brings it to life seemingly effortlessly. The subtle facial reaction when she’s concerned about her daughter, the way you feel how scared she is when trying something new and the heartbreak you see in her body language when something goes wrong in her life again. From the moment she gets out the van at the start, you just want her to be happy, and that’s the reason this film breaks you into a million pieces.
An absolutely immaculate piece of cinema.
If it wasn’t already obvious, Pin Cushion is a seriously tough watch. It does have brief moments of laughter and joy, but these are overshadowed by the sheer brutality forced upon you. It’s so emotional that you hardly get a moment to recover from each scene. Maybe this is why the tears only came for me as the credits rolled, as I was too busy worrying what was going to happen next that the last hour and half hadn’t fully hit me. Me and a few others in the screening definitely used the credits as time to process everything and compose ourselves.
…this film breaks you into a million pieces.
However, don’t let the sadness distract you from the fact that Pin Cushion is undeniably remarkable. As I said at the start, it’s raw, visceral and unlike anything I’ve seen in the past few years. There’s a reason Deborah Haywood was named a “Star of Tomorrow” in 2007. The film digs its nails into you and will not let go for a few days. What hurts the most is remembering the tiny details that are enough to set you off again, such as the dinner between Iona and Lyn where they both lie about their days. It makes you hope that you never accidentally made anyone feel half as bad as Iona and Lyn do in real life. It honestly hasn’t left my head since I left the screening and won’t for a while. Anyone who says cinema is dead or that films aren’t original anymore need to watch this. To be honest, everyone who’s age appropriate needs to watch this. Pin Cushion managed to cause my strongest emotional reaction to a film ever, and I know it has done the same to others to. An absolutely immaculate piece of cinema.