I hate it when you’re watching a film, and about 15 minutes in you’ve already figured out the entire plot. Enter Pin Cushion, a film with so many twists and turns that you will not be able to predict what happens next. The outcome is an experience that will leave you speechless, maybe even in tears and slightly traumatised. It’s not a nice film. I can’t guarantee you will enjoy all of it, but you will feel like a different person afterwards.
Pin Cushion is a fairytale-like British indie by first-time director Deborah Haywood, drawing on tropes of black comedy and grotesque cartoonish horror. The story takes place around a codependent mother and daughter – Lyn, who has learning difficulties and is a hunchback, played by Joanna Scanlan, and shy, lonely teenager Iona, played by Lily Newmark. They are perfectly cast. Scanlan is both piteous and aggravating, and Newmark’s portrayal of Iona embodies awkward. We arrive in the film at the moment they move to a new town, each blindly optimistic about their possible new lives, and you are almost tempted to believe with them.
There is something of The Glass Menagerie about Pin Cushion. Watching these two doomed characters hurtle towards tragic downfall reminds me of Tennessee Williams’ mother and daughter characters Amanda and Laura, who are, like Lyn and Iona, trapped in a fantasy world. At every point, you are hoping for some change or resolution, but it resists itself. The problem with Lyn and Iona is deeply rooted within themselves; naive and in denial, they are not equipped for our harsh world.
One of the main themes of Pin Cushion is precisely about being trapped in presenting a version of yourself. Which happens to all of us, but particularly women.
"One of the main themes of Pin Cushion is precisely about being trapped in presenting a version of yourself. Which happens to all of us, but particularly women," explains writer and director Deborah Haywood in a press statement. As Lyn and Iona use fantasy to soothe the harsh edges of reality, something merges between these two worlds, and the film positions itself in an evil fantastical hybrid.
Pin Cushion came to fruition at a particularly low point in Haywood’s personal life "that somehow made me feel strong. And bold. And made me just go for it," she says. There is so much of Haywood in this film, not least in its setting, which is the town she grew up in. Travelling back to the school where she herself was bullied, like Iona, Haywood was able to attach new bonds to the place. "I’ve changed the nature of that school now – I think of it as this creative experience where I’ve made a film, whereas before I used to shut my eyes when I drove past it."
Pin Cushion is both sad and funny to watch at times: from Lyn and Iona’s insistence on calling each other 'Dafty 1' and 'Dafty 2' (and having those nicknames painted on their mugs), to the lies they tell one another (for example when Lyn convinces Iona she has made friends with a neighbour, when in fact the neighbour has stolen her ladder). As the wonderful Isy Suttie, who plays Anne in the film, the leader of a community centre ‘friendship’ group, puts it: "Pin Cushion is about lots and lots of flawed people trying to make their way through life. And some of them are nicer than others. And that’s actually what life is." Pin Cushion takes you right to the heart of life's hardest experiences, and though the moral lesson fails to arrive for its characters, it’s laid bare for us all as viewers: just be kinder.
Pin Cushion is in select cinemas across the UK now. See pincushionfilm.co.uk for information and cinema listing details.