Producers: Jessica Malik and Bob Last Director: Charlotte Colbert Screenplay: Kitty Percy and Charlotte Colbert Cast: Alice Krige, Kota Eberhardt, Malcolm McDowell, Rupert Everett, Jack Greenlees, John McCrea, Apple Yang, Daniel Lapaine, Jonathan Aris, Layla Burns, Amy Manson, Olwen Fouéré, Kenneth Collard, Catriona McNicoll, Fiz Marcus, Joanna Bacon and Stephen Kyem Distributor: IFC Midnight
A finely-gauged performance by veteran Alice Krige and a mood of deep foreboding—a product of many ingredients, including gloomy Scottish locations; Laura Ellis Cricks’ menacing production design; Jamie D. Ramsay’s hazily mesmerizing widescreen cinematography; supple editing by Matyas Fekete and Yorgos Mavropsaridis; some effectively shocking montages and effects; Clint Mansell’s creepily overwrought score; and the skilled eye of director Charlotte Colbert, herself a multi-media artist—are the chief virtues of “She Will.” Though the uneasy juggling of horror, dark comedy and social commentary in Colbert’s debut feature makes it less than completely successful in purely narrative terms, overall it delivers as both a poignant rumination on aging and a genuinely unsettling tale of feminist revenge against centuries of male abuse.
Veronica Ghent (Krige) is introduced as a gaunt figure reminiscent of Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” Heavily bandaged, she’s travelling with her nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt), a punkish-looking girl with short hair bleached white, to a remote retreat in the Scottish Highlands to recuperate after a double mastectomy. Severe and imperious, she treats Desi with nasty condescension and a persistently sharp tongue.
Ghent expects solitude in the “off season,” but though she and Desi are assigned a secluded cabin apart from the main house at the retreat, she finds herself part of a coterie of patients being treated for their emotional problems with a variety of supposedly therapeutic mental exercises by a voluble, wild-eyed therapist named Tirador (Rupert Everett). She’s compelled to participate in group activities like yoga and drawing sessions using charcoal from the rich local soil, which—he explains—is enriched by a high concentration of human ash remaining from witch-burnings long past.
The art classes in particular have a strong effect on Ghent, inciting not only visions of the gruesome executions of women at the place but powerful recollections of the mistreatment she suffered as a young girl at the hands of arrogant director Eric Hathbourne (Malcolm McDowell) when she starred in one of his iconic masterpieces. Now, as is shown in an early scene of his being interviewed on television, he’s preparing to remake that film. He seethes over rumors about his past malfeasance toward women, but exhibits no remorse for it, and one can only imagine what form his treatment of another teen actress might take. But her experiences also bring changes in Veronica: as she muses on growing old and the changes it—and the surgery—have wrought on her body, she become more solicitous toward Desi.
The nurse, meanwhile, takes up with the retreat’s rough but seductive handyman Owen (Jack Greenless), even though his macho attitude does not bode well for his treatment of her. But the spirits of the forest—and perhaps the new powers Ghent appears to imbibe from the place—react when his plans for her take a brutal turn. And he isn’t the only man to feel her wrath: back in London, Hathbourne is haunted by terrifying apparitions from his past.
The screenplay by Colbert and Kitty Percy doesn’t attempt to spell out how the retreat’s locale comes to affect Ghent; it merely posits the premise that as she contemplates the results of aging and illness on her own body, she draws from the bloodied soil—or perhaps it draws from her—an ability to redress wrongs, past and present, perpetrated by men against women. The viewer can ponder whether this derives from the witchcraft that supposedly permeates, the region, or from something within Ghent activated by her physical and emotional turmoil.
But an explicit explanation isn’t necessary for the film to work on a dramatic level. The atmosphere that Colbert and her team create, combined with Krige’s compelling performance, is sufficient to render logical criticisms of the plot of negligible consequence. Eberhardt lends excellent support, and both McDowell, in his saturnine fashion, and Everett, in his florid one, do likewise.
This is a horror film that’s subtly unnerving rather than grotesquely gross, drawing its power from the realities of male domination and human mortality.