SHE WILL **** UK 2021 Dir: Charlotte Colbert. 95 mins
“It’s not creepy, it’s a tragedy.” With these words, writer-director Charlotte Colbert unequivocally announces her intentions with her award-winning directorial debut, She Will. Colbert brings a uniquely feminine vision to the predominantly male centric horror industry, but has aligned herself astutely with a master of the genre, Dario Argento.
Argento’s exploration of witches (Suspiria) and his origins in Giallo (The Bird With The Crystal Plumage) are clearly evident in She Will, but Colbert adds a modern, feminist edge to the film and pays homage to numerous other horror influences including John Carpenter and Wes Craven, both of whom have a career-long predilection for strong female leads.
An aging film star Veronica (Alice Krige) retreats to a Scottish countryside retreat with her nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt) to recover from a double mastectomy. Veronica is confronted by her traumatic past and effected by mysterious forces after discovering the area’s bloody history with female persecution and the burning of “witches”.
The Witch-horror sub-genre has a checkered history with a limited rate of cinematic success, from the frivolous (Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic) to the misguided (The Lords Of Salem, Season Of The Witch), while truly visionary efforts like The Witch, Suspiria and The Blair Witch Project are astonishingly rare. She Will is an understated, but ambitious attempt by Charlotte Colbert to add herself to the short list of filmmakers who have created these standout productions. In collaborating with Argento, Colbert has given herself the best chance at creating something seminal and distinct, but Colbert’s shrewd decision-making did not end there. The addition of composer Clint Mansell (Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan, The Fountain) was another stroke of genius. Mansell’s compositions are mesmerising and dream-like, adding a layer of intrigue to the film that leaves the viewer unnerved and breathless. The cinematography of Jamie Ramsay (Living, See How They Run) is equally noteworthy as he allows scenes to be filled with subtle movement and deeply vivid colours, whilst creating a vastness and isolation in each image which leaves the viewer almost completely untethered. Reality is creatively blurred with fog and kaleidoscopic fragments with the characters’ awakenings stunningly visualised as they become aware of their own powers and new-found boundaries.
However, it is the addition of Alice Krige (Sleepwalkers, Silent Hill), who gives a career best performance and is the most magnificent highlight of the film. The often-underappreciated working-actor, brings defiant gravitas and unflinching realism to a character who has been stripped of her beauty and fame, which she previously used as a mask and defence against the men who have mistreated and abused her. She is laid bare and left with only the most basic essence of herself, and the belief that survival depends on her being “all teeth and claws”. Krige embodies this character with a lived-in confidence and a powerful vulnerability as she accepts her trauma and is ultimately empowered by it.
Veronica (Krige) not only empowers herself, but extends the opportunity to the more submissive Desi (Kota Eberhardt). She hands the key to female sovereignty to the younger female and reminds her that apologies are not needed for independence and gender equality. This concession is hard fought and at the expense of Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Halloween), the abusive film director who catapulted Veronica to fame at the age of 13. Every interaction with male characters is a battle of attrition, which initially leaves the female characters marginalised and stifled, until they find their own power and wield it without mercy.
Colbert has crafted a majestic piece of cinematic art. The deliberate, meandering pacing might be an obstacle for some, but even this creative choice adds a contemporary, elevated dimension to a beautifully constructed film.
Review by Louis Du Toit