Published on September 29th, 2017 | by voxx0
Out: 29 September
Length: 148 minutes
Director: Martin Koolhoven
Cast: Guy Pearce, Dakota Fanning, Emilia Jones, Carice van Houten, Kit Harington
Plot: After the arrival of a vengeful new reverend (Pearce), Liz (Fanning), a mute midwife’s family is in grave danger as she becomes a fugitive and is being hunted.
There’s a short yet successfully fertile history of European directors tackling the Western genre, a phenomenon which has, on occasion, produced memorably unorthodox imagery of a perhaps mythological American past. Dutch writer-director Martin Koolhoven takes on this lineage with his English-language debut, ‘Brimstone’. However, this nature of a traditionally stunning narrative is short lived as he spends most of the film’s punishing 148 minute runtime inflicting humiliation and trauma upon his female characters. It’s a film populated by yellow-toothed, slightly feral, vilely perverse men preying on women for pleasure.
The plot is split into four chapters, each named after Biblical terms. There’s Revelations, Exodus, Genesis and Retribution, and in each of these chapters you’re plunged into the story of Guy Pearce’s vengeful Reverend and Dakota Fanning’s mute midwife Liz. His story is filled with revenge and hate after losing his wife and seeing his daughter escape from his clutches. He listens to the word of God, enforcing pain on the people, mainly women, who betray him. In each chapter of the story he enforces a new method of torture, each more brutal than the last. Liz’s story is perhaps the easiest journey. In the beginning of the film she’s a mute midwife happily married to Eli (William Houston). Hers is a modest lifestyle working with her young daughter to deliver babies across town. As soon as the new reverend comes in she’s terrified of him, and as the film progresses her story comes to play. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters her life opens up. As a teenager played by Emilia Jones, she learns about the values of being a woman constantly plagued by pain. This comes of use to her later.
Her performance, though mostly mute, is fantastic. The emotions that she goes through aren’t expressed by voice, so instead her facial expressions contain the most emotion to tell us whether she’s panicked, terrified or shocked – each emotion gradually paints a picture of her pain; a brave and honest performance which gives little polish. Unfortunately, this is soon dragged down by Pearce’s flagitious villain. The usually reliable Pearce is compounded by Koolhoven’s poorly written dialogue and an iffy Dutch accent which produces little fire from his veteran face. But you’d need to have some strong resolve, and perhaps need a strong stomach to match it.
Koolhoven desperately tries to give ‘Brimstone’ the same audience-unfriendly measures from Lars von Triers’ ‘Breaking the Waves’ or perhaps Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’, except without any of the intricate storytelling or indeed any of the complex characters attached. In short, this is a poorly handled, poorly written Western which sacrifices good storytelling for the glorification of suffering women.
VERDICT: Passable in the storytelling of the two leads but in the end this brutally hellish Western ponders along with female abuse and not much else.
- By Corey Denford