Director: Charlotte Colbert
Stars: Alice Krige, Malcolm McDowell, Kota Eberhardt
Recovering from a double mastectomy, terse aging actor Veronica Ghent (supporting stalwart Alice Krige) absconds to a dusty old Scottish mountain retreat to convalesce, accompanied only by her thankless assistant Desi (Kota Everhardt). Intending to hide from the world, Veronica is dismayed to discover that the estate is far from vacant, with scores of her peers and admirers already on site to welcome her. Veronica wishes to leave immediately.
And yet the Highland hideaway ignites intrigue in the fading star, chiefly via the tales of 18th century witch burnings that surround the premises. Holing up in a nearby cabin to maintain her desire for relative isolation, Veronica starts having vivid dreams of the coven of old. These combine with creeping imagery of invasive mud. Perhaps indicative of a local’s spicy descriptions of the peat in the spring water… Perhaps a remnant of Veronica’s recent cancerous ordeal.
Favouring slow-burn disquiet, Colbert cleaves toward cultivated unease rather than pop-horror jumps and spookiness. This is mirrored in the film’s score by Clint Mansell, which mainly favours sustained drones over more emphatic histrionics. Visually and sonically we are in the arena of brooding dread. Colbert’s techniques aren’t quite revelatory, but She Will evidences a clear set of aesthetic decisions; a director who knows what she wants.
The bleak and sodden landscape – it’s earthen features – tessellate well with the material, which finds Veronica seeking solace and even regeneration from the very ground around her. While indulging in a communal painting exercise, Veronica is compelled to pull from the earth and ashes at her feet to splatter her canvas, furthering a sense of communing with the women once burned there.
Veronica is a strange bird. In one mood she’ll pepper Desi with insults, in another she’ll praise her talents and virtues. This schism of character is visually echoed in shots that linger on reflective imagery. The film opens with the surface of a lake and it’s sky inverted – complimentary reflections – while a train snaking into a tunnel provides a vertical set of mirror images. Opposites and parallels persist.
“You have to be all teeth, claws,” Veronica scabrously advises Desi following two incidents in which she uses her newfound power to thwart patriarchal imbalance. Is Veronica triggered by the scorn of the witches, or are they invoking her own long-supressed anger? Sequences that infer teenage molestation at the hands of venerated film director Eric Hathbourne (Malcolm McDowell) suggest the latter, and also help key She Will pointedly into present day controversies. This upfront prickling of the public consciousness might well get Colbert’s film lazily labelled “elevated horror”, but the wrongs perpetrated against women itemised here also predate hashtags and trending topics.
The ubiquity of post-#MeToo commentary threatens to take the edge off of She Will. It’s late appearance in the cycle can make it feel like it lacks originality. And it’s true that some of the imagery here is by turns heavy-handed and over-familiar, both when considering the film’s feminist imagery and it’s depictions of possession (Veronica’s nighttime levitations – her back arched as a horseshoe – recalls Rose Glass’ recent hit Saint Maud, which itself borrowed the visual from many other precedents). But to dismiss She Will for lacking inspiration would be unkind. Regardless of it’s relative familiarity, this is a well-constructed and executed chiller, even if the very real threat of rape that emerges mid-picture feels a little blunt-force.
Come the end things get a little wispier. Mansell’s score transforms into something choral and vaguely new age-y (imagine Enya hyperventilating). Astral projection enables a confrontation telegraphed from the very beginning. Well portrayed, it still manages to lack the requisite punch required to resolve and reward impactfully. A music video mentality tends to overtake Colbert’s ambitions (although suddenly that ‘Dario Argento presents’ credit at the top of the picture starts to make more sense).
Regardless, there’s still plenty here to suggest Colbert as an emerging talent to keep track of. If She Will doesn’t quite live up to it’s convincing set-up, it offers plenty of indications that it’s director has the skills within her to pull something all-the-way satisfying out of the bag.