This is the traditional Thanksgiving meal of Lifetime movies with all the usual fixins: sexy troubled teens, drugs, underage sex, and single mothers.
So, the movie opens with a funeral for a teenage boy, unfortunately named Kale, which promptly gets crashed by Vanessa (90210’s Jessica Lowndes). The boy’s mother spots her across the room and has her kicked out. Are funeral bouncers a thing? We find out that Vanessa is almost 18, and has run through her fair share of foster homes since her mom died. She’s getting displaced again; her social worker explains that while she was a suspect in Kale’s death (which explains getting kicked out from the funeral), she’s been cleared of any suspicious involvement. She has a vision of her dead mom, which happens a lot in this movie.
Hey, Annabeth Gish! She plays Maddie, semi-recently separated mother to a high school junior, Chris (played by Grant Gustin, who is apparently very charming and cute in The Flash). Her Wikipedia page is mysteriously scrubbed clean of any mention of this movie, but IMDb never lies, AB! The Gish is always very no-nonsense, which I appreciate about her. Anyway, Chris is depressed and despondent since his breakup with his girlfriend Cheryl (note to the writers – no high school girls are called Cheryl anymore!); his grades are bombing and he’s about to get kicked off the track team. AB makes a promise to the principal that Chris will straighten out his grades. Let’s see about that.
But first, we see Vanessa as she unpacks her baggage in her new foster home. By baggage, I mean more visions of her mom (she apparently discovered her mom’s body as a young girl) and pictures of Kale (the boy, not the vegetable). Nobody will be surprised to find out that Kale is shockingly a dead (heh) ringer for Chris. But I’m positive that this is all just a coincidence and Vanessa will end up becoming a loving, supportive friend for Chris and vice versa.
At school, Chris is moping because Cheryl is flaunting her new boyfriend and his jock biceps around the cafeteria. Meanwhile, Vanessa meets with the principal and sweetly reassures her that as per her social worker’s instructions, she will avoid drugs, sex, alcohol, and BOYS. Even though the social worker’s profile also warns that she’s a pathological liar and super delusional, the principal is like, great to hear it!
Vanessa’s loitering outside school when she meets some beefhead jock named Jake, but immediately stops flirting with him upon seeing Chris. She creates some wild scene to beckon his help and he is hook, line, and sinker. She immediately convinces him to skip track practice so they can hang out. Chris’s friends, Matt and Cam, approve since Vanessa is basically smoking hot and way out of everyone’s leagues. Vanessa and Chris go for a walk and eat ice cream and kiss. It’s a little adorable. They part ways, and when he gets home, he gushes about her to AB. Just then, Vanessa shows up. How did she even know where he lived? Oh well, no time to think about these details! AB is basically suspicious immediately, because that is basically The Gish’s permanent mode. I feel like The Gish always knows when someone’s lying.
Sometime later at school, Vanessa wastes no time at all by threatening Cheryl to stay away from Chris. If she doesn’t, she’ll get treated to a lead pipe in the face, which is very Clue and old-timey of her. This is when we find out that Vanessa’s phone background is already a picture of Chris. Just then, her psychiatrist calls; she pretends to be a stranger who found the phone on the ground, and hangs up. And that’s the end of that storyline; her psychiatrist is never heard from again! No authority figure seems to be concerned or on top of Vanessa’s shit, except The Gish.
Anyway, she spots this guy she knew named Lew (I don’t know – that’s what IMDb says), who is the main suspect for Kale’s death. We find out that Kale died from a possible drug overdose and/or suicide? You guys, I’m sure that this is all just some big misunderstanding, and Vanessa had nothing to do with it.
Vanessa guilts Chris into skipping another track practice, so they can go suck face in public instead. I mean, I’m not, nor ever have been, a teenage boy, but that’s probably not the most difficult decision to make, even though he feels bad about skipping and potentially losing his spot on the team.
OMG, so he sees that she has rows of scars on her wrists. She admits that she cuts. He’s freaked out, and when she sees this, she lies that she accidentally fell through a plate glass window with her “brother” – her brother named Kale! As far as Chris and AB are concerned, she’s been with this foster family since she was 10. Anyway, Chris is literally like, whew I thought you were crazy! The Gish raised you better than that, Christopher, because that is very rude and insensitive to people struggling with mental health.
The Gish is pissed when she finds out he has also skipped his dentist appointment. Not the dentist (a mother’s nightmare!)! Just then, Chris brings Vanessa by. Apparently, her foster parents locked her out “again”; according to her, they hate her but need the government’s money for fostering, so they treat her like shit. The Gish isn’t buying any of it, but allows Vanessa to sleep in the spare room for the night.
Vanessa quickly takes a turn when she begins singing this creepy-ass lullaby that her mom used to sing her (WTF Vanessa’s mom), with the main lyrics being, “Love me til I die, my love.” Hilariously, she then puts a framed picture of AB that sat on top of the dresser facedown into the top drawer so she doesn’t have to look at The Gish’s suspicious face. Sometime in the wee hours, she sneaks into Chris’s room for late night groping. Things are heating up!
AB finds the photo of herself in the drawer the next day. She knows something hinky is going on, so after confiding to a friend about her concerns, she is determined to talk to Vanessa’s foster parents to find out the truth.
Vanessa and Chris have sex! He was a virgin. She totally ruins the postcoital afterglow by asking if he wonders what it’s like to die. Vanessa, no. I don’t remember his answer, but he confides in her that when his dad would drink, he’d get abusive. This comes up later, obviously. OMG, AB finds them in bed together and worst of all, it’s like, 11 a.m. during a school day. I could not imagine a less sexy time to bone down, but then again, I’m not a hormone-infested teenager anymore. I feel sorry for these two; they clearly have a shitload of personal demons to wrestle, so part of me wishes that they just help each other through their issues together for the rest of the movie. But then, that wouldn’t make it a very good Lifetime movie, so let’s get into the shit.
AB continues to try to shut their relationship down. She finds out that Vanessa hasn’t been with these foster parents since she was 10, like she’d told Chris. Also, Chris’s grades are bombing again. She calls up her ex-hubby Steve (who is now sober and dating someone new) to help investigate Vanessa’s history. Apparently every time her new foster parents try to look into it, they get hit with a bunch of red tape. Isn’t it super illegal not to disclose a foster child’s history to the foster parents? ANYWAY. Steve and AB have an Intimate Moment of Shared Concern for their Child. It’s pretty nice.
Vanessa gets a job at a little pet place called Groom N Board (fantastic), and apparently has full reign of the office after hours, so she buys some liquor and invites Chris over for a party of two. He refuses to drink, because of his dad, but after some classic teenage girl convincing, he gives in.
Shit gets crazy.
He gets super loaded. She takes out a razor blade and cuts their thumbs whilst singing her creepy ass dead mom lullaby. To top it all off, she puts her dad’s ring on his finger to eternally bond them. I didn’t date in high school, but I imagine that this is how all teenage couples hang out these days.
He gets home, blind drunk, which throws AB into a total tizzy of rage. She doesn’t want him to see Vanessa anymore, but when she spots the ring on his finger, she rightly realizes she’s in over her head.
So, Matt and Cam are realizing that Chris’s girlfriend is a little intense, so they coax him into going to practice when she wants him to skip again. Vanessa doesn’t take kindly to this betrayal, so she carefully stages a make out sesh with Jake the Jock in the woods so Chris can see them! He’s pissed, but they eventually make up. He gets kicked off the track team once and for all.
OKAY, you guys. Steve has done his research! He tells AB that Vanessa’s mom was a dancer in Europe and suffered from Delusional Disorder. After her husband (Vanessa’s dad) left, she killed herself. As a result, Vanessa has the same disorder, an obsession with death and cute teenage boys, and thinks she can communicate with her dead mom. Poor Vanessa. Her last boyfriend, Kale, was a star athlete and grade A student who mysteriously died from a drug-induced suicide. Everyone’s got a type! That’s all it is.
Chris gets home hiiiiigh as a kite. Steve sits him down and tells him the truth about Vanessa. Way to be a downer, Steve. The next day, Chris confronts Vanessa at school about Kale and gives her back the ring. She cries in the hallway right before spotting Jake the Jock. Idea!
Matt and Cam are walking through the woods behind the school when they spy Vanessa and Jake either making out, or having the worst sex ever, up against a tree. She’s like, rubbing her neck furiously on the tree bark. Later, she sneaks into some backstage theatre area of the school and uses some foundation to cover the marks. Cheryl happens upon her and even though Vanessa had recently threatened to BEAT HER WITH A TIRE IRON, they magically make up and become friends. Vanessa has a Plan, and I’m not sure if the plan is borne out of being found out and thusly rejected by Chris or whether it was going to happen all along, but let’s just go with it. She and Cheryl swan around school together, total besties now, which hooks Chris back into her Shelobian web.
She calls him from work one night in a total (fake) meltdown of paranoia and delusions. He rushes over and sees the marks on her neck; she claims that Jake hurt her but she can’t tell anyone, because no one can help. Here is where I made a jot note that Grant Gustin uses an appropriate amount of the word “babe” in this scene to help get through to her. It’s just realistic and I appreciate that. She pours them some drinks but spikes his.
Guys, this gets so uncomfortably crazy as it flashes from the pet store shit to AB at home:
- Vanessa wants to make a “hot video” and makes him put her dad’s ring back on
- AB realizes Chris is not home
- Chris is totally and completely fucked up from the drugs, while Vanessa is recording all of it on her phone
- AB finds condoms and mix CDs of Vanessa’s terrifying lullaby
- Vanessa ties Chris up (this grooming place is the perfect place for her to work!)
- AB finds Vanessa’s work address
- Vanessa is taunting Chris and puts a dog collar on him (!!!)
- AB shows up to rescue him
I have never felt safer than knowing AB is on the case. There is no one more scarily capable than The Gish. I love her.
Grant Gustin really goes for broke in this scene and has, if you will, shades of Leo in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? It’s just an observation. He trips balls very convincingly. Feel free to use that line on your resume, Grant. Anyway, AB takes him home but then finds out Steve is in St. Lucia. STEVE!
Things go from bad to worse because a detective shows up on their the next day; Vanessa has accused Chris of rape and battery.
Sidebar: Look, I get it. This is a young woman clearly suffering from severe mental illness, so from a storytelling perspective, the writers want to paint her as ruthlessly crazy and vengeful as possible, right? What do “crazy” women do? Falsely accuse scores of innocent men of rape. This whole thread just feeds into the broader stereotype and fictional narrative about women, rape, and how women allegedly throw the extremely serious accusation around like it’s their job. This stereotype completely ignores the reality of the situation, which is that sexual assaults are still horrifically under-reported because going through the fucked-up questioning and doubt that is cast on women that report the crimes often re-victimizes them. This is just lazy writing. There are a thousand creative and terrifying ways that Vanessa could act out her vengeance (murder Cheryl with that tire iron and frame Chris as the murderer, burn down their house, kidnap AB and sing that lullaby to her for hours, etc) without resorting to a very tired, desensitizing, shitty stereotype.
Vanessa needs serious fucking help.
The fallout continues. Matt and Cam confirm to the cops that Vanessa dumped Chris for Jake, as witnessed by the bad sex they saw in the woods. The cops find evidence of semen in Vanessa (the semen in question remains to be unidentified). Both Vanessa and Chris are forbidden to discuss the case with anyone, but that’s not stopping Vanessa from telling her side to everyone that has ears. Why are Vanessa and Chris even allowed to attend the same school during such an open, incredibly sensitive investigation?? AB and Chris start receiving anonymous threats. Chris is a total social pariah at school, which: NOPE. This plot line is extremely fantastical, because everyone automatically believes the new girl’s accusation. This is just as realistic as me winning a Nobel Laureate in literature for my blog. A popular, handsome, athletic kid like Chris would never take the fall for this.
Vanessa gets on Skype with Chris, and convinces him that he’s just like his father when he drinks and abused her without knowing it. Sadly, he breaks down to AB later and wonders aloud, what if he did rape and beat Vanessa? This is very heartbreaking stuff, but AB’s reaction ruins the entire scene.
She is adamant that he isn’t “capable of that violence.” Ugh. Obviously, no parents wants to believe the worst , and AB’s heart tells her that her own child couldn’t do something so horrific. But… she doesn’t really know the truth. There are countless parents defending their sons from having committed horrific, monstrous acts upon women (and other men) that they did, in fact, commit. Even Chris can’t imagine that he would ever have hurt her, but he still believes the victim.
Chris goes for a walk alone at night and gets attacked by Lew and his gang. Vanessa means business, you guys.
The cops find out that even though the semen matched Chris’s sample, there was also evidence of another dude’s spunk (sorry). The detective is very suspicious of Vanessa, and when Vanessa gets cagey about her phone (which contains the footage she shot of her taunting and tying up Chris while laughing; a video that very much contradicts her story of that night’s events!), she suspects that the phone contains some damning evidence. Wouldn’t you know it, just as the detective asks to see it, the phone’s battery dies, so the detective warns Vanessa that she’ll be back with a warrant. Way to show your damn cards, detective! All she has to do is wipe her memory card, you dummy.
(For the record, that video is not conclusive evidence that Chris did or did not rape Vanessa. It just shows that Vanessa was the one coaxing Chris into his breakdown. One could argue that his breakdown, even if it was manipulated by Vanessa, could have easily led to him attacking her. Which still makes her the victim!)
Chris, still believing that he’s the bad guy, starts chatting with Vanessa via Skype and we see that he’s gone back to wearing that damn ring. Forbidden love, man.
AB takes matters into her own hands and contacts Vanessa’s social worker (played by Jay Brazeau, whom I adore) for more dirt on V. He can’t disclose confidential information, but passes along the numbers of some former contacts, like that of Kale’s mom and Vanessa’s former foster parents.
AB pays Kale’s mom a visit and finds out that Kale wore the same ring as given by Vanessa, took PCP, and killed himself. In a phone call with her last foster parents, AB discovers that she got transferred to them after that happened to ANOTHER dude she was dating. Talk about an MO. Anyway, AB speeds home and discovers that Chris is GONE. The cops are useless, so she is now on the hunt to find Chris herself. AB finds their Skype conversation on Chris’s computer and sees that Vanessa ordered a cab for them. The cab company reveals the requested drop-off location, which seems like confidential information but I guess when you’re screaming that your son’s about to get murder-suicided, they will probably give you what you want. AB is on the way to the park, already calling the cops and paramedics. The Gish is gonna save the day because every other authority figure in this movie is a worthless noodle.
Chris and Vanessa are having a picnic in a totally deserted park. She was very thoughtful and brought a spiked cherry soda for him. He is higher than any person has ever been before. Ugh, she cuts her wrist in front of him and says that if he loves her, he has to understand her pain or something equally disturbing. She encourages him to cut his own wrist while recording it on her phone.
Vanessa, if I may be so bold to quote Tyra, I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you! How dare you!
This is where I wrote that Chris starts acting like Matthew Lilliard in the climactic scenes of Scream.
He starts to bleed out. She takes back the ring just as AB shows up swinging. AB is literally strangling Vanessa to death before the detective shows up to stop her. Chris is technically dead until paramedics resuscitate him just in time.
Three months later: AB and Chris are back to normal, I guess. Steve’s back from his fucking vacation and is getting married to his girlfriend.
But most importantly, Vanessa’s in a psychiatric ward of a hospital. Great! I hope that she’s getting some compassionate, competent counselling from a trusted profess–oh wait, no. Instead, they’ve done the worst thing possible and paraded around a young male orderly that looks exactly like Chris.
And, as the camera slowly reveals her looking at a picture of both parents, they all look exactly like her father! Ah, they couldn’t resist a girl with daddy issues, huh?
The movie ends with Vanessa’s lullaby. It’s the only time I’ve been scared in this movie.
This movie was a tough one for me. Parts of it actually worked for me; the portrayal of depression and mental illness in teens is super topical and important, but they Lifetime’d themselves too much. The lead actors all did a pretty good job, particularly Grant Gustin and Annabeth Gish. Lowndes lacked the range to make Vanessa convincingly charming or innocent, but she’s super pretty and can do “crazy” pretty well, so maybe that’s all they wanted.
The Gish deserves better than this!