By Adam Ray Palmer
What a Venice Film Festival this is shaping up to be. I have been spoilt with quality films this week and I don’t think it’ll let up with tomorrow’s Hacksaw Ridge either.
It says a lot when the ‘worse’ film I have seen personally so far is The Light Between Oceans when in fact it is actually good. Sadly, for now, TLBO will stay there with this praising review for Brimstone.
Brimstone is directed and written by Martin Koolhoven starring Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce.
Brimstone is a period drama that centres on a woman named Liz (Dakota Fanning) who we follow through different stages of her life. We see her presently, we see her as a child and as a young woman. All through her life, she has been trying to avoid a man who we know as The Reverend (Guy Pearce).
Brimstone is split up into four sections which are Revelation, Exodus, Genesis and Retribution – all of which are straightforward. We begin the film with ‘Chapter 1: Revelation’ where we see Liz and her family living life in a quiet rural neighbourhood. She is the town’s midwife. One day, she must deliver a baby that doesn’t quite make it. The grief-stricken father labels her a murderer. This calls for the new Reverend in town to get involved, but Liz has a past with him.
‘Chapter 2: Exodus’ begins and we see a young girl being dropped off at tavern called Frank’s Inferno. We later understand she is being groomed to become a sex worker. Questions are posed as to how she escaped this certain doom. This is the most important segment of the film.
‘Chapter 3: Genesis’ sees Joanna as a young girl growing up on a farm. This is where we learn The Reverend has a much stronger hold on Liz. The final chapter, 4: Retribution, ties the film up nicely. We are now up to speed with the past and fully understand the twists and turns that have gone by. The final few sequences are gripping to say the least and was met by a rousing applause here in Venice.
Koolhoven’s Brimstone is already causing a storm here in Venice with opinions being diverse to say the least. This could be for a few reasons. There are scenes of heavy violence, gratuitous sex scenes, child violence sequences and a controversial take of faith. You cannot deny how well this film is shot though, Koolhoven has a gentle approach to his technique here with his camera gliding over the actors. This adds tension and mystery. When intense scenes are looming, he sticks to his guns and doesn’t accelerate. This is well and truly a great thriller rather than an eerie horror.
The Dutch director will be scrutinised though for his standing on faith in Brimstone. The unending religious symbolism with repeated flagellation, hell’s flames of the dammed and so much blood – whether than be pigs or human.
The two central characters are brought to life nearly flawlessly by their actors. Guy Pearce’s preacher role suits him to the ground. His Reverend is frightening, creepy and unpredictable. Dakota Fanning is also a marvel in her role. She spends most the movie without speech and we still feel every emotion she portrays. Fanning tells the story with her face powerfully, which is perhaps why she was chosen with her open and expressive qualities. One negative of her character though, throughout her life she is exposed to a titanic amount of abuse, physically and emotionally, but not once does this have an effect on her. This is a missed opportunity to delve deeper into her character.
I think this film will divide people in the end. In Venice, division was expected with religion having a strong following here. The screening I attended had cheers during the final sequences only to be met with jeers when the credits rolled. I am firmly in the ‘cheering’ mob.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
Brimstone will be released later this year/early next year – certificate TBC. It will next screen at the London Film Festival.