Welcome to Peacock. It’s a little slice of big-sky country heaven, where there’s an apple pie in every kitchen, the lemonade is always ice cold, and everybody knows everyone; or so they think. It’s hard to keep a secret in a place like this, but John Skillpa (Cilian Murphy) has got himself a doozy. After the death of his abusive mother, John’s developed an alter-ego – the soft-spoken, meticulous Emma. Emma serves as equal parts wife and mother to John, washing his laundry, preparing his meals, and generally keeping the socially retarded man-child in line. We see how their complex dynamic works early on, and, for John, it fills the gap left in the absence of his not-so-dearly departed mother. He needs the structure Emma provides, yet, at the same time, thrives on rebelling against her, sneaking candy bars and baseball cards out from under his porch steps, and taking his time finishing up the tasks on Emma’s lengthy to-do lists. In essence, Emma is the maternal figure John needs to survive, but, at the same time, one he can control, if only on the subconscious level.
That is, until one day, when John’s deep dark secret is revealed to the world.
While doing laundry, Emma is nearly struck down by a train car that runs off the rails and crashes through the fence into her backyard. She’s struck momentarily unconscious, and awakens to find herself surround by well-meaning neighbors, surprised to see a woman at the Skillpa house. Emma flees inside, draws the blinds, and then retreats to her bedroom where John takes over. John then returns to the yard and is barraged with questions about the strange woman staying with him. It isn’t long before rumors spreads around town that Emma is John’s wife. Emma is visited by Fanny Crill (Susan Sarandon), the wife of Peacock’s mayor (Keith Carradine), who is interested in hosting a political rally in the yard atop the derailed train. Initially, Emma is reluctant to speak to Fanny, but, for some reason, the woman inspires her to come out of her shell. The more John tries to keep Emma in check, the less control he has of his situation. Matters are made worse by Maggie (Ellen Page), a desperate single mother who harbors a devastating secret about John; one that forces Emma to do the unthinkable.
Peacock was a huge surprise to me, not just because it’s a fantastic film, but more due to the fact that it’s only now making its world premiere on DVD. Here we have a gorgeously photographed film boasting a great cast, a suspenseful and unique storyline, and a riveting lead performance by Murphy (who previously donned drag in the underrated Breakfast on Pluto) and yet, somehow, it slips completely under the radar and, in lieu of a much-deserved theatrical release, gets unceremoniously plopped on the shelves of your local Blockbuster alongside the likes of Killer Octopus vs. Enormous Lemur and Amateur Porn Star Killer VIII: The Final Battle. I mean, it’s not the type of film I’d expect to do boffo business at the box-office, but this is surely as good a piece of award bait as I’ve seen this year, and I can’t imagine why it didn’t at least make the usual festival rounds. Don’t get me wrong; I love little surprises like this. Popping in an unassuming little movie like Peacock with absolutely zero expectations only to discover what could very well be one of the best direct-to-DVD movies I’ve ever seen, well, that’s what makes this (nonpaying) job worthwhile! It’s just that this is a film that deserves so much better, especially in light of some of the truly awful stuff passing for quality adult entertainment these days (The Blind Side? Really???).
Lionsgate presents Peacock on DVD with a very appealing 1.85:1 transfer that sports a clean, crisp image, and showcases frequent Tim Burton collaborator, Philippe Rousselot’s gorgeous cinematography. From the stunning wide open vistas to John’s dark and dreary basement office, the image maintains a nice sense of depth and clarity, with no hint of digitization or compression. The 5.1 DTS audio track compliments the visuals wonderfully, with a rich, full-bodied mix that offers nicely nuanced surround effects and clear and natural sounding dialogue. Extras include a short making-of featurette entitled “Welcome to Peacock”, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, some rehearsal footage featuring Murphy, and the full Peacock script (DVD-ROM).
Peacock is a slow-burn Gothic drama that starts off as a curious character piece and gradually reveaks itself to be something much darker. While it’s setting is pure Americana, the film has a distinctly European flair that borders on Polanski-esque, resulting in a sophisticated and stylish thriller that comes highly recommended.