79 year old co-writer / director Larry Kent was making contentious dramas as far back as the 1960’s and now offers a well-timed horror film centered on religious extremism. At the outset, a gun-toting fanatic instigates a massacre at a Planned Parenthood clinic; the facility subsequently sees its funding cut as a battle rages between church and the law.
Sarah Smyth continues to help patients after the closure, including a woman horribly abused by a member of the Baarker family, a group of self-styled “Chosen Ones” who define themselves as “Soldiers of God”. The woman’s husband is a smiling, respected pastor…and a deluded psychopath with crazed ideas of a man’s “divine right” and that “our bodies belong to the one who gave us life”. Conspicuously avoiding melodrama while dealing with highly emotive, rabble-rousing topics, Kent shoots in a muted, naturalistic style with hand-held camerawork and authentic performances. The understated approach heightens the startling moments of violence: the film doesn’t flinch from a hammer-bludgeoning, an emotionally harrowing stillbirth and a marital rape. Offering no sense of hope and an extended lament at the state of our world, SHE WHO MUST BURN closes with a distressing climax in which good people die horribly and noble sacrifices fail. The very final act of apparent divine intervention feels misjudged, but otherwise this is a bold, powerful picture.
Review by Steven West
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