FOR GOOD written and directed by Stuart McKenzie (R16) ****
Margaret Agnew, Christchurch Press, Saturday 6 March 2004

When I was growing up, the name Kirsa Jensen held horrific significance. Kirsa went missing while out horse riding in Napier in 1983.

She wasn't the first girl to sinisterly disappear in small-town New Zealand, and she certainly wasn't the last.

The ongoing repercussions of this sort of evil is the subject of New Zealand writer-director Stuart McKenzie's debut feature film, For Good.

McKenzie seems to use deliberately ordinary Kiwi names, so his characters could stand for any criminal or any victim of crime.

In For Good, Grant Wilson's abduction, rape and murder of 13-year-old horse-rider Tracey Hill occurred over a decade ago.

Lisa Pearce (Michelle Langstone, Spindoctors) is a wannabe journalist who vaguely knew Tracey when they were girls – they competed in horse trial events and were born on the same day in the same maternity ward.

Now 23 and returned from her OE, Lisa is obsessed with this ultimately life-changing event.

She believes she lost her freedom after Tracey was murdered. According to Lisa, her parents took away her horse after the murder (her parents have a different version), and watched her like jailers.

Now living in Newtown, Wellington, Lisa decides not to wait until she is an actual journalist to research the story behind the heinous crime. She takes it upon herself to badger the prison holding Wilson until she is finally granted an interview.

Despite suspecting Lisa isn't a real reporter, Wilson (a genuinely menacing Tim Balme) allows the meetings and is strangely drawn to Lisa, perhaps as a version of Tracey.

Far from curing Lisa of her nightmares and obsession, she becomes more involved and seeks out Tracey's parents.

Tracey's dad (Tim Gordon) has vowed publicly to kill Wilson if he gets parole, while Tracey's mum (a scarily gaunt and grey Miranda Harcourt) appears to be still waiting for her daughter to come home. They too are drawn to Lisa as a sort of surrogate.

Lisa makes use of a video camera, which allows for some neat camera tricks and interesting cinematography.

It is not exactly a pick-me-upper but For Good is so good in so many ways. Some of the acting, perhaps with the exception of the young lead, is superlative. Balme and Harcourt especially deserve kudos.

Balme convinces as a sinister, sexual predator, while Harcourt's raw pain and anger is awe-inspiring.

In his psychological drama-thriller, developed from the play Portraits, McKenzie touches on a multitude of topics from sexual violence, tougher sentencing, rubber-necking tragedy tourists, the role of the media, and fear, mourning and grief.

Shot in Wellington and a desolate, sinister-looking Eketahuna, For Good is not a comfortable film, but an essential one.

Shot on a budget about the size of Mystic River's catering bill, it nevertheless manages to give Clint Eastwood's much-praised film a run for its money.

For Good even delves deeper than the Oscar-winning Mystic River in some ways, looking at the criminal as well as the effects of the crime on those around them, which results in a startling denouement.

A fine addition to New Zealand cinema, this is a film that will linger in the forefront of your mind.

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