- Katherine McLaughlin
- 25 September 2017
Absurdly brutal western from Martin Koolhoven, enlivened by an engaging Dakota Fanning
Female suffering fuels Dutch writer-director Martin Koolhoven's relentlessly brutal and weirdly flat western, set at the end of the 19th century. Dakota Fanning stars as Liz, a young woman who is stalked mercilessly by an evil reverend (Guy Pearce). The film is divided into four chapters – Revelation, Exodus, Genesis and Retribution – and, as events draw to a close, you'll be gasping for sweet relief after watching women being raped, flogged and murdered for two and a half hours. Even Lars von Trier gave Björk more respite in Dancer in the Dark than Fanning gets here.
After the initial reveal that 'The Reverend' is on a quest to crush Liz and everything she loves, Koolhoven schleps slowly back through her history, all the way to her childhood. She runs away from a cruel home, is forced into prostitution and eventually ends up married, which is where the film begins. Kit Harington appears as an ally to Liz – an unconvincing cowboy who attempts to save the day. Carla Juri is far more persuasive as a fearless prostitute whose tongue is cut out for insubordination, while Carice van Houten's pale complexion and stooping demeanour poignantly reflect her tortured existence.
The persistent violence and bloodshed becomes increasingly absurd the longer the film wears on, and Pearce's cartoonish villain is hard to take seriously. The Reverend is shrouded by shadows at first, his silhouette insinuating a devil-like guise, but such horror imagery feels at odds with the solemn tone of Liz's gruelling journey. Koolhoven conjures up the occasional arresting image concerning the silencing and erasure of women, which infuses his film with traces of might and power. The landscapes are beautifully shot and Fanning is an engaging presence throughout, yet the punishing themes make contact like a blunt instrument.
Limited release from Fri 29 Sep.