She Wants Revenge: Colbert Commingles Traumas for a Witchy Saga
Director Charlotte Colbert delivers a moody character portrait mired in the mysteriousness of folk horror with debut She Will, centered on the formidably magnetic Alice Krige. A sinister, isolated retreat in the Scottish Highlands sets the tone, but Colbert winds through this tale of vengeance and retribution with unexpected beats, melding body horror, and historical psychogenesis. Subtly drawing upon a yonic allegiance with the past and present, it’s a strange allegory on the power of female alliance to combat the entrenched and unyielding heteropatriarchy. Although the material gains for the central women of Colbert’s story are negligible, it’s a moody tale of spiritual fulfillment funneled through the earthy, age-old powers of witchery.
Actress Veronica Ghent (Krige) traels to what she believes to be a secluded retreat in the Scottish Highlands. Recovering from a double mastectomy and haunted by resurfacing memories of the sexual trauma which overshadowed her film career, she’s accompanied by her nurse, Desi (Kobi Eberhardt), who has grown accustomed to her employer’s prickly nature. “I’ve had a mastectomy, not a lobotomy,” she crows at the nurse’s myriad of health-related reminders. Upon arrival, it appears Veronica will not be alone, lassoed into “community events,” like an art class taught by Tirador (Rupert Everett). Increasingly, something lurking in the ground seems to be corresponding with Veronica, soothing her aching body and conjuring certain powers which suggest self-actualization through retribution.
Krige is an unsung matriarch of genre cinema, from her exceptionally robust performances in arguable B-films such as Sleepwalkers (1992), Star Trek: First Contact’s Borg Queen (1996), or the terrifying witch in Oz Perkin’s rehash Gretel and Hansel (2020), there’s an ethereal, otherworldliness to her patrician calm. Even as a young woman, breaking out in the Peter Straub adaptation Ghost Story (1981), or playing Mary Shelley for Ivan Passer in Haunted Summer (1988), Krige has been a receptacle of the macabre, effortlessly channeling her own star image in Colbert’s narrative. Her Veronica Ghent is a woman whose iconicity is tied inextricably to a role (from a film called Navajo Frontier) she portrayed as a thirteen-year-old. We’re led to understand how this experience brought her fame but also was defined by a sexually manipulative film director (Malcolm McDowell, playing off countless instances of similar real-life scenarios, from Bernardo Bertolucci to Luc Besson and well beyond). Now, there’s an impending sequel, and thus the final erasure of her image. Also playing in the background, the script takes pleasure in mocking the rampant hyperbolization of filmmakers, an interview segment announcing McDowell with “he’s made every movie you’ve ever loved.”
Her physical vestiges of femininity removed in the double mastectomy she’s recuperating from, Kitty Percy’s script borrows from a lineage of film’s wherein a younger female helpmate is terrorized by an aging diva (think the recent Saint Maud, 2019, for instance). Rarely do we get a narrative focusing or empathizing on the elder element in this equation.
Brief bits of supernatural surprise, including spontaneous combustion and a bemused Rupert Everett as an art teacher, fall to the wayside. The soil itself, howling from the energies and memories of women burned as witches, seem to be reaching out for Veronica, whose pain subsides in her embrace of the earth below her (the dark ashes falling to the ground are eerily called ‘witches’ feathers by the locals). We get less of a sense of Kota Eberhardt’s Desi, whose allegiance to Veronica is at least presented as believable, if not out of sisterhood, than for professional integrity. What’s most interesting about She Will is the methodical, intense interest in conveying Veronica’s return to herself through the removal of her worldly agencies, both physically and, in a spiritual sense, cinematically.
Although eerie, the film’s intentions are not to terrify rather than to deliver a psychopathic version of just desserts. Although there’s no real ambiguity about Veronica’s discoveries, Colbert, Percy and Krige leave us wanting more of her narrative. Production design from Laura Ellis Cricks, another estimable score from Clint Mansell, and shadowy cinematography from Jamie Ramsay, which channels menace whether in shadowy forests, night clubs, or immaculate interiors, She Will is arguably more an exercise in mood than depth, but it’s pervasive and perverse enough to satisfy those who enjoy a slow-burn sinister character portrait.
Reviewed virtually on August 6th at the 2021 Locarno Film Festival – Fuori Concorso. 95 Mins