13th October 2016 5.45pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
14th October 2016 2.15pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
15th October 2016 8.15pm at Picturehouse Central
There’s nothing inherently wrong with depicting violence towards women. Indeed, if there is a setting and period that demands such content – essentially any time before the 20th century – it would be dishonest not to show it. But a film doesn’t have to revel in it. Martin Koolhoven’s Brimstone purports to be about the struggle of women in the early days of America. And in many way, it is. Dakota Fanning begins the story in peril, and continues in that vein for two and a half hours. She is threaten, chased, beaten, and even raped; most of her family and friends are eventually murdered. This is to feed into our sympathy for her as she tries to fight back, to establish her own fierce independence in a world run by men. But Koolhoven doesn’t know when to stop. He plays the brutality for shock purposes, and he repeats it, over and over again, with little new angle each time; it has the terrible effect of making such things not provocative, but predictable.
Fanning plays Liz, a mute woman who works as a delivery nurse in a small, religious community. A new preacher comes to town, simply referred to as The Reverend (Guy Pearce); he begins to threaten Liz, who seems to know him. The epic plays in reverse, as Liz’s career as a prostitute in a Deadwood-like town and her miserable childhood – complete with kindly gunfighter Kit Harington – are revealed, one after the other. Though this is less revealing than Koolhoven thinks. Each overlong segment doesn’t offer many surprises, instead slowly fulfilling expectations and offering little interesting character exposition. Pearce’s preacher is almost comically evil, possessed with an unrealistic, two-dimensional religious fervour; Fanning, while given a good role for non-verbal acting, is the kind of saintly heroine that even Lars von Trier might have balked at.
At least the look is distinctive. Painted with the same monochrome shades that brought The Witch to life earlier in the year, the muddy inspiration is clearly Cormac McCarthy; explicit gore, including the bloodied head of an infant, do offer happy memories of Blood Meridian, even if the overpowering score nullifies this almost immediately. A nasty moment late on is an apex of this theme, but proved to be a turning point for much of the audience – a line crossed with wobbly incompetence. Brimstone plays with fire, but can’t avoid sustaining serious burns.
Brimstone does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 60th London Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Brimstone here: