By Rich Cline
An unnerving Western with a sharp female perspective, this film is a series of gruesome surprises from Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven. Told in four chapters that unfold out of sequence, the film’s brutality is almost balletic as it explores the horrors of this rampantly male-dominated society. It’s also gripping, and the characters and themes are seriously haunting.
The main setting is a small desert town, where the mute Liz (Dakota Fanning) is the local midwife. She lives with her gentle husband Eli (William Houston), their daughter (Ivy George) and his son (Jack Hollington) from a previous marriage. Then a new Reverend (Guy Pearce) arrives in town, and immediately takes exception to Liz. As their feud escalates, the Reverend preaches hellfire and damnation messages specifically about Liz. He’s also secretly stalking her and making threats that escalate into serious nastiness. But all of this is connected to Liz’s past as a young girl (Emilia Jones) living in a brothel, and earlier with her mother (Carice van Houton) as she encounters a desperate fugitive (Kit Harington).
The further back we go, the more interconnected everything becomes, with unexpected revelations that link the characters. There are also huge plot twists and earth-shattering events that don’t always ring true. All of this is anchored by Fanning in a remarkably alert performance that requires her to convey (or attempt to conceal) her thoughts and feelings with her expressive eyes. Opposite her, Pearce is practically twirling his moustache as the sadistic villain, a terrifying psycho without any other sides to him. Thankfully, he’s surrounded by characters who are layered and fascinating, providing both a blast of earthy realism and some very deep emotions.
The film is shot beautifully, with lavish flourishes that add plenty of style. The landscapes (it was mostly shot in Spain) are spectacular, capturing the sense of life in this wild frontier town where justice is elusive and the physically strongest will rule the day. Yes, there’s a subtle sense of subtext that a bully like Donald Trump would love it here. In this place, women are basically powerless, prohibited from making even the simplest decisions for themselves, which makes the feisty, sharp Liz feel like a revolutionary force as she refuses to be abused any longer. So as she takes control of her destiny and sets out to avenge the inequities of her life, we can’t help but cheer her on. Even when things get seriously grisly.
Facts and Figures
Production compaines: X-Filme Creative Pool, Film i Väst, Prime Time, Illusion Film & Television, Backup Media, N279 Entertainment, FilmWave
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Cast & Crew
Director: Martin Koolhoven
Screenwriter: Martin Koolhoven
Starring: Guy Pearce as The Reverend, Dakota Fanning as Liz, Carice van Houten as Anna, Kit Harington as Samuel, Emilia Jones as Joanna, Paul Anderson as Frank, William Houston as Eli, Ivy George as Sam, Bill Tangradi as Nathan, Jack Roth as Wolf, Jack Hollington as Matthew, Carla Juri as Elizabeth Brundy, Vera Vitali as Sally, Frederick Schmidt as Sheriff Zeke, Naomi Battrick as Narrator, Tygo Gernandt as Crawling Outlaw, Alexandra Guelff as Working Girl, Adrian Sparks as Eli’s Father, Justin Salinger as Doctor, Peter Blankenstein as Man in Gunfight, Dorian Lough as Street Preacher, Natascha Szabo as Working Girl, Martha Mackintosh as Pregnant Woman, Joe David Walters as Sally’s Customer, Sam Louwyck as Marriage Broker, Dan van Husen as Coach Driver, Joseph Kennedy as Husband of Pregnant Woman, Bob Stoop as Drunken Miner #2, Henry Buchmann as Mine Worker, Fergus O’Donnell as Fred Eastman, Hon Ping Tang as Meng, Andrew Harwood Mills as Man at Bar, Ad van Kempen as Arie, Charlotte Croft as Abigail, Ellie Shenker as Young Girl, Frieda Pittoors as Agatha, Sid Van Oerle as Drunken Miner #1, Amelie Ha as Chinese Girl, Irene van Guin as Working Girl, Judith Edixhoven as Working Girl, Talizia Hoysang as Working Girl, Paula Siu as Meng’s Wife, Griffin Stevens as Customer, Lydia Pauley as Working Girl, Isabella Depeweg as Working Girl, Florentine Seuffert as Working Girl, Sue Maund as Abigail’s Mother, Elizabeth Müller as Working Girl, Alexandra Wirth as Working Girl, Baely Saunders as Jackie, Stephanie Andrzejewski as Working Girl, Rebecca Theresa Schedler as Working Girl, Danila Linzke as Working Girl, Hans-Joachim van Wanrooij as Blacksmith, Farren Morgan as Mike, Julie Plitschke as Working Girl, Raimond van Soest as Dead Man #1, Katharina Frucht as Working Girl, Leon van Waas as Barman, Ian Xu as Chinese Boy, Ninh Kerger as Chinese Pedestrian