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Bonded by similar experiences in childhood (Juliet suffered from tuberculosis, while Pauline suffered from osteomyelitis) which left both of them bedridden for much of their early years, they struggle to find their place in the world until they meet each other and create their own religion of a sort, constructing a fantasy world they call The Fourth World.
Juliet Hulme and Pauline Rieper (later revealed in the trial to be Pauline Parker, as her parents never married) quickly become best friends when Juliet's family moves to Christchurch in 1952.
I wish the film had done more (assuming it would have been possible to do so accurately) to speculate as to what must have been missing from each of these girls to cause them to do what they did.