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Review: Brimstone

Brimstone
03.07.2017
6 10
brimstone logo

PLOT: A young, mute woman (Dakota Fanning) and her adopted children are forced to flee for their lives when a mad preacher (Guy Pearce) arrives in town.

REVIEW: How on earth did BRIMSTONE ever get made? I don’t mean that as a negative. BRIMSTONE, for all of its problems (rather than faults), is an impeccably made film. But, it’s also a raw, uncompromising piece of auteur cinema that clearly cost a pretty penny, and is punishingly anti-commercial. A hyper-violent art western, BRIMSTONE couldn’t be more niche, so kudos to writer-director Martin Koolhoven for getting it made on such a scale.

Dakota Fanning stars as a young woman who, after having her tongue cut out, is mute and living a quiet life with her much older, kindly husband and his two kids from a previous marriage. Too bad for her that Guy Pearce’s psycho preacher, who believes that he alone knows the torment of hell and thus is allowed to commit whatever sin he wants, is fixated on her – and within twenty minutes of the film starting, Dakota’s husband has been strangled via his own innards.

After this bold opening (although no less bold that the full title on-screen being “KOOLHOVEN’S BRIMSTONE” – with the director proclaiming himself a major auteur), the movie flashes back, for more than an hour, to give us context into why Pearce is so fixated on Fanning. Running a monstrous two and a half hours and filled with sadism that’s truly hard to stomach – and all of it directed at women (two have their tongues removed, two more are forced to wear slave iron bits, and rapes, beatings and incest figure heavily into the plot) BRIMSTONE isn’t so much a film you watch as endure.

brimstone dakota fanning guy pearce

Yet, it’s not a bad movie. BRIMSTONE is made with superb craftsmanship and Koolhoven has clearly made exactly the “thing” he’s wanted to make. The widescreen lensing is beautiful, and the score by Junkie XL (establishing some indie bonafides after his acclaimed studio work for BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) is evocative. Similarly, the acting is perfection, with Dakota Fanning giving a stunning performance as the heroine, with half of her screen time being non-verbal (although in lengthy flashbacks to the time she spent as a prostitute – she speaks). As the evil preacher, Pearce is scary as hell, with a livid scar and accent making him one of the more unsettling screen baddies in recent memory. Meanwhile, the prominently billed Kit Harington is effective in a supporting role as an outlaw who, nobly, tries to contend with Pearce, but finds himself outwitted by his diabolical adversary.

brimstone kit harington

So who exactly should watch BRIMSTONE? That’s the multi-million dollar question, as I honestly struggled to get through it, even though I can acknowledge it’s a “good” film in that it’s well made, the acting is perfect, etc. It’s just so damn unpleasant. Maybe, if it wasn’t so long, it would make a trippy midnight feature, but Koolhoven’s ambitions are beyond that. This is likely intended as something more akin to Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS, or a Jodorowsky film, dooming it to, at best, belated cult status much further down the road.

brimstone poster
Source: JoBlo.com

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