Magazine article Screen International

'Brimstone': Venice Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Brimstone': Venice Review

Article excerpt

Dir/scr Martin Koolhoven. Netherlands/Germany/Belgium/France/UK/Sweden. 2016. 149 mins

A lurid and unpleasant Lutheran 'scary preacher' Western anchored to its fragile tentpole only by the considerable acting skills of Guy Pearce and Dakota Fanning, Brimstone makes its audience want to pray for forgiveness by running home and rewatching Night of the Hunter (though There Will Be Blood would do almost as well).

Dutch director MartinKoolhoven (Winter in Wartime) lifts at least two plot devices wholesale from Charles Laughton's 1955 masterpiece of menace in what one assumes is intended as an homage - but if so it backfires badly, serving only to illuminate the heavy-handed solemnity of this tastefully packaged but borderline offensive slice of revenge porn, which starts promisingly but is slowly (alas, very slowly) drowned by backstory.

That package - lush widescreen photography, stylish vintage Shaker-chic production design, a mostly solid cast - distracts from the emptiness at the heart of Brimstone, which uses dramatic shock tactics to paper over the cracks in the story, and covers up its lack of character development with a self-consciously sombre orchestral soundtrack. The star cast and that surface sheen (which doesn't extend to some rather cheap-looking special effects) will certainly give the already pre-sold Brimstone some sort of theatrical run. But its unjustified two and a half hour running time will be an issue, and it wouldn't be a surprise if cuts were made following the film's Venice competition debut.

The film is divided into four long 'Chapters' entitled Revelation, Exodus, Genesis and Retribution - the latter presumably being the title of a recently discovered apocryphal book of the Bible, also known as the Gospel According to St Quentin. The first part is easily the most powerful; in fact, for its 45-minute running time we're mostly engaged as we witness the arrival, in a small upland frontier community somewhere out west, of the Reverend (Pearce), a creepy, Homburg-wearing preacher with a facial scar, whose appointment to the local clapperboard church is a source of mute alarm for the village's de facto midwife, Liz (Fanning) - literally so, as she is, for some reason that will (of course) be revealed, dumb but not deaf.

Liz lives in a simple but neat wooden farmstead with her two children and good, God-fearing husband Eli (William Houston). …

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