dir-scr Martin Koolhoven
prd Uwe Schott, Els Vandevorst
with Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Emilia Jones, Kit Harington, Carice van Houten, William Houston, Ivy George, Jack Hollington, Paul Anderson, Carla Juri, Bill Tangradi, Vera Vitali
release UK Oct.16 lff
16/Netherlands 2h28
Pure desperation: Fanning and Harington

fanning pearce vanhouten
venice film fest
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Brimstone With a cool, clear eye, Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven creates an expansive Western that vividly captures the perspective of a woman in a harshly male-dominated world. It's a ripping tale, told out of sequence in four overly-gruesome chapters that weave into an epic tale of retribution. There are a few niggling plot points, and the brutality sometimes feels almost celebratory, but the characters and themes are provocative and haunting.

In the rural wild West, Liz (Fanning) is the local village midwife, a mute living with her kind husband Eli (Houston), his son (Hollington) and their daughter (George). But the new Reverend (Pearce) immediately raises Liz's hackles, and things begin going horrifically wrong immediately as he takes her on. Quickly, the Reverend gets everyone wondering if Liz is an immoral villain. Meanwhile, he is privately stalking her, making horrible threats that escalate into something very nasty. And what's going on here is only the culmination of several years of nastiness.

Indeed, that's just the first chapter of three. From here, the film flashes back to Liz as a child (Jones), encountering a brothel owner (Anderson), a friendly prostitute (Juri) and, earlier, life with her mother (van Houton) and an encounter with a desperate fugitive (Harington). Finally, we return to the present to tie everything together, sort of. There are surprise revelations about the characters' backgrounds, major plot twists and unexpected outcomes to various events. And there's also one huge thing that happens that makes no sense.

Fanning anchors the film with a bright-eyed performance that completely wins over the audience, and discovering things about her childhood and more recent past seem to reward the audience for their sympathy. Pearce, meanwhile, scowls and growls through the film, channelling Robert Mitchum from The Night of the Hunter (he even hums a hymn to haunting effect). He may be a bit of an overwrought psycho-villain, but he is genuinely scary. And everyone in the supporting cast catches the gritty realism and earnest emotion of the story.

Koolhoven shoots all of this in fine style, with broad-stroke cinematography in majestic locations (mainly Spain). This recreates the sense of frontier life with real power, especially in the way women have absolutely no say in their lives. But then Liz is a sharp, strong, feisty woman who refuses to take any more abuse. And as she siezes control of her destiny, we can't help but cheer for her.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 3.Sep.16 vff

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall