“Once upon a time, there was an old woman who lived in a lonely cottage” in the country? Yes, of course, it was the country. Or, was it really a house in the city? According the Brothers Grimm, it surely was a cottage, most idyllic and unlike the urban home in Rose White. Or, once again, depending on the perspective we chose, I suppose it could be either.
That is exactly the unique perspective taken by Rose White—the new film from director Daniel Kuhlman. From the beginning narration, Rose White is told, basically, as “Snow-White and Rose-Red” from the Brothers Grimm. The story soon connects loosely to the original we know, adding a fresh, modern story along the way. In Rose White, the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred and events are interchangeable—fantasy seems real at times, while reality seems fantasy at others. Elements of surrealism give the movie a fairy-tale feel throughout. The combination creates what is easily a new film classic, taking a respectable place as a fairy tale itself.
“What’s it about?” you ask. Well, I’ll just say, without spoiling such a wonderful film, that it’s like the original fairy tale, here and there, with loads of original material added to make it an all new experience. Alliances are made, bonds of friendship and love are formed, and people do all manner of bad things that people often do. However, whatever you do, don’t dismiss this one thinking you already know the story. Trust me! You don’t!
In Rose White, there are many parallels to the Brothers Grimm version, just as there are many differences. As in the original fairy tale, there’s an elder sister (Erin Breen) and a younger sister (Deneen Melody)—Rosalyn and Lilly. Also included are human counterparts for a bear (Daniel Kuhlman), and a dwarf—a rather nasty little dwarf I should add—not unlike his parallel in the Grimm version. One difference is a clever twist with his name; in Rose White, the would-be dwarf is appropriately called Little Man. There’s also a human referred to, in narration, as The Wolf (Anthony Fleming III), who is not in the original tale we know; he's complete with his own pack of other wolves—or, in this case, henchmen. Add to that a pack of prostitutes that, while necessary in Rose White, have no parallel in the original—of course! Oh, and is there a fairy tale prince? It's a nice thought, but I'll never tell.
Yes, of course, there are no prostitutes, drug addicts, drug dealers, insane characters, or delusions of fantasies in the original; but, that’s what makes Rose White so unique, dark, and truly original itself. It is exactly those elements that make Rose White such a gem of modern story telling—a true fairy tale for the times. It’s tough, down-to-earth, and just as gritty, visceral, and real as real life is. Rather than bears, dwarves, and possible princes, we have crime bosses, drug dealers, and prostitutes. Even the Brother's Grimm might write about such things, if they lived today.
The gritty, visceral realism is just what makes Rose White a fantasy thriller that also crosses over into the category that I call real-world horror. It’s horrific, not because of supernatural monsters, demons, and the like, but instead because it is often a part of the real world we live in. So, in that sense, Rose White is also a horror story for the times—one without real people turned into bears by dwarves, but one with real people turned into things arguably even worse. Yes, Rose White is a fairy tale with no happy ending in the real world; but does it, perhaps, give us a sense of deliverance and happiness in another world? Does it, maybe, give us that feeling we want in the end, despite all else? I’ll never tell.
Deneen Melody is an actress with more unique looks than any actress I’ve ever seen—anywhere! I’ve watched her play all character types, with truly diverse appearances, in a variety of other performances. In Crestfallen, Deneen played a jilted, suicidal woman who had to show much emotion with her face and body language, because the movie had no dialogue. In Rose White, Deneen plays a young woman in a movie with dialogue, but almost no speaking time for her character. Once again, Deneen does this with perfection. Yes, even with few words to say, Deneen stands out and captivates us with a childlike innocence needed for the part. In her role as the mute and delusional younger sister, Deneen is a girl who lives life as a fairy tale, in her own mind, to protect herself from a painful reality. She shows emotions that make us believe she is experiencing what she faces in the film. This viewer, for one, could hear countless words of dialogue from the expressions on Deneen's face alone—begging, pensive, and wishful looks, along with later expressions of peace, solace, and happiness. Deneen’s movements are cautious and reluctant to fit a mood in one scene, while lilting, graceful, and flowing in others, just as one would expect from a fairy tale princess. Deneen becomes the character she portrays, absorbing herself in the necessary reality, as a metaphor to her own part in Rose White. With or without words to say, Deneen’s talent as an actress speaks clearly here as well as ever! Kudos to Deneen Melody for a beautiful performance…again!
I often say that the best actors are those that make me forget they're acting. Erin Breen is an actress who does that every time, no matter where I see her. She delivers a knock out performance in Rose White, as well as ever. The force and impact of Erin’s character (Rosalyn) as she plays it, is simply awesome to watch. She commands her part, like the true professional she is, giving the elder sister just the extra punch we expect. Erin’s character calls for one who’s tough, streetwise, and stronger than her sister, while still being sexy, graceful, and even vulnerable. She nails this character like she was born to play it, absorbing herself in her role, making us believe she is Rosalyn! Whether playing a prostitute (as Rosalyn) or a fairy tale damsel, Erin has the range of a true professional, and it shows every bit in her performance! In Rose White, her expressions are always just right to convey the emotion of the moment, letting the viewer know exactly what Rosalyn is thinking, feeling, or fearing. Here, I'll adapt a fitting cliche to most appropriately describe Erin—her face is surely worth more than the proverbial "thousand words." I truly enjoyed watching her performance! Oh, and the brush of the rose petal across the lips...just perfect, Erin!
Daniel Kuhlman—the director—also plays the part of The Bear. As the character requires, and true to the Grimm Brothers tale, Kuhlman is friendly and helpful, claiming to be out for the best, while still having the potential to be dangerous; but, unlike in the Grimm version, this bear is not so selfless in his methods, relying more on plan than coincidence. Kuhlman plays his part low key at times, and forceful at others, all the more effectively as a result. There is a certain uncomfortable feeling we get watching his quiet assertions and calm demeanor juxtaposed with what we suspect—carnal, selfish motives, ready to spring forth in a moment. Yes, watch for a lustful glance at the elder sister at an unexpected moment, and you’ll know what I mean; a very nice touch, it was! Yes, Kuhlman plays his part in much the same way that a bear might behave, making us all the more cautious as we watch him and try to trust him. Kuhlman’s character, as well as the others in Rose White, reminds us of what a true fairy tale is, and the lessons it tries to teach us—don’t get too comfortable with that wolf (or as it is here, that bear) in sheep’s clothing! He might just kill you someday!
Speaking of a wolf, Anthony Fleming III plays The Wolf in Rose White; his screen time is limited but powerful, leaving just the indelible effect that’s needed for a street-wise drug dealer. Anthony’s delivery of his few lines alone efficiently develops a character that we know, because it is otherwise a stereotype. Here however, Anthony as The Wolf is no stereotype; he is original and unique, making him one to remember.
Last but not least is Tom Lodewyck as Little Man—another character whose counterpart appears in the Grimm version, but not in the form or character depicted in Rose White. Yes, Tom Lodewyck as Little Man is much like the original fairy tale dwarf villain we’d expect, even much worse—and I don’t mean the Disney type singing “Hi, ho, it’s off to work we go.” This guy’s work (if you can call it that) is as despicable as is his character, and Tom Lodewyck plays the part to make us dislike him appropriately. His part as the local crime boss is not the worst of what he does! Tom’s not in the movie a lot; but when he’s there, he makes his presence known with his power to make us despise his character. I guess you could call that great use of limited time on screen.
Rose White was written and directed by Daniel Kuhlman, co-directed by Brian Kilborn, and produced by Daniel Kuhlman, Deneen Melody and Anthony Sumner. The story was developed by Deneen Melody and, of course, based on “Snow-White and Rose-Red” by the Brothers Grimm. The whole team of directors, producers, writers, and actors has created a must-see film for modern audiences, as much as for audiences of any time to come. With the cinematography alone, Rose White is a work of art in motion—a poem animated, painting its metaphors vividly for all to see. In one of many scenes to remember, Lilly steps out of her dark home in the city, into a beautiful forest with sprites in flight, sunlight, and fairies abound. The transition occurs flawlessly, just as Lilly's foot touches the ground, moving things from reality to fantasy, or perhaps the other way around. For this scene and many more of the kind, Rose White is a movie not to miss. I highly recommend it!
No praise for Rose White would be complete without mentioning the original music by Matt Novack. His score for the movie is haunting and foreboding, yet magical and ethereal, elevating the story beyond its limits, to a higher level. Novack’s music reminds us that it’s reality, while at times convincing us that it’s a fairy tale. His music flows, with transitions in the movie, in and out of reality—or, at least, reality as it is perceived. Novack's score creates the perfect duality of effects, working flawlessly with the movie’s fairy tale/reality theme. It's actually a soundtrack I'll be looking for!
For me, in the end, there was a most impressive and poetic metaphor relating to the bonds formed between Lilly and Rosalyn. You won’t see it until the end, but when you do, there’ll be no way to miss it. I wish I could tell you more, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending of such a beautiful film. Let’s just say that, while messy, it ties things up (or bonds them together) most literally and figuratively.
Rose White is about reality and what it really is; is it what we experience and believe to be objective? Or is reality, perhaps, just as much what we see, feel, hear, and sense as real in our own mind. Rose White is about how physical manifestations of the imagination and human bonds create anything but something imagined. It’s about how real life can, indeed, be the most horrific fairy tale you’ll ever know. However again, happiness, as imagined, is maybe all that matters.
“…and when the elder would say, ‘We will not leave each other,’ the younger would answer, ‘Never so long as we live.’” ~ The Younger, Rose White
Starring Erin Breen, Deneen Melody, Daniel Kuhlman, Tom Lodewyck, Anthony Fleming III, Celeste Williams, Valerie Meachum, Sean Bolger, David Goodloe, Thurston Hill, Sheri Savage, Marla Seidell, Stephanie Andrews, Jay DeLaRosa, Anne Marie Boska, and Brooke Lodewyck, Written and Directed by Daniel Kuhlman, Co-Directed by Brian Kilborn, Cinematography by Jeremy Kuhlman, Original Music by Matt Novack, Story by Deneen Melody (Based on "Snow-White and Rose-Red" by The Brothers Grimm) Produced by Breakwall Pictures in association with TinyCore Pictures For information about Breakwall Pictures, click here!