Canadian veteran director Larry Kent helms what has to be one of 2016s most harrowing films with ‘She Who Must Burn’ a impacting mix of horror and drama with relevant undertones regarding the contemporary issues surrounding religious zealots.
The story begins with the murder of a doctor working in an abortion clinic in the rural US by a pastor who, it turns out, leads a rather fanatical flock. Cut to current issues, a young family, in particular a nurse/councillor continues to endure constant harassment from the local church goers for her involvement in work with the local women their natal issues and birth control. As circumstances escalate within the film, so does the tension between the local ‘Christian’ leaders – eye for an eye and all that, leading right up to the films titular climax.
Let me begin by saying that this film is no easy watch. The culmination of high quality cinematography, acting and direction means that the frankly harrowing subject materials explored throughout the films run time hits home – hard. Modern circumstances only further bolster the films relevance especially in the UK with continued stories of abuse and ‘honour’ killings in the name of faith. The character of Angela and the women she helps are well crafted but necessarily ordinary in contrast to the films antagonists, the Barker family. Whilst the other town’s folk are normal folk trying to make what they can from what they have the Carvers are characters plucked straight out of the inquisition. Unhinged, manipulative and dangerous, their vindications of spousal abuse, rape and ultimately murder all justified within their interpretation of the bible are as worrying as they are well represented. The acting from these characters is exquisite – particularly that of the ‘sister’ (Missy Cross) – who goes from stable to outright feral in the blink of an eye. The real horror here is the people!
The plot is a definite slow burn, which most certainly ramps up in intensity and pacing within the third act. Within the film we are told that the town is to expect the worst storm in recent history, and you feel it too, a storm is coming – symbolic of the plots chokehold it has on you right up to the films shocking and visceral climax, which incidentally is the only part of the movie which identifies it as a horror film as opposed to a really, really brutal drama.
Incidentally, I think the ending is going to be the divisive component of the film. I cannot see how any criticism can be brought down upon any other element of the film as it really is that good. The ending however, well, it has to end somehow and even horror must adhere to the retribution and justice for the evil acts. Here we see just deserts being dished out, just in a rather odd and perhaps not so timely fashion. Watch the film, you will see what I mean. It’s a nice round up, just perhaps not as well-grounded as the rest of the movies tight knit and realistic plot.
Overall I can wholeheartedly recommend ‘She Who Must Burn’ to all fans of horror, especially those who have become restless with the current spate of fantasy/supernatural based horror and yearn for something a bit more mature. ‘She Who Must Burn’ comes to make a statement and it makes it loud and clear – “There is a savage beast in every man, and when you hand that man a sword or spear and send him forth to war, the beast stirs.” (George R.R. Martin). Powerful and poignant.