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Monday, August 7, 2017


A monochrome-toned film that veers too close to violence-porn, not to mention a crude self-righteousness. (Review by Patrick Compton -6)

Gruelling and relentlessly violent, this Dutch film is Tarantino without the relief of humour or that wonderfully evocative tongue lodged firmly in his cinematic cheek.

Brimstone is the second film, after Viceroy’s House, to be commercially released following its screening at the recently completed Durban International Film Festival.

Dutch writer-director Martin Koolhaven comes over as someone who has read but not properly absorbed Cormac McCarthy. His film is a Western horror show with an unrelenting Old Testament kick. And, for a film that expresses its horror of religiously sanctioned patriarchal social customs, it spends an awful lot of time torturing women and exposing them to horrific examples of frontier “justice”.

The image that sums up the film is the startling sight of a pastor’s wife (played by a luckless Carice van Houten) in a “scold’s bridal”, a gadget that apparently existed and was used in 19th century America to punish errant wives.

This is a film that takes a lengthy 149 minutes to drag us through a series of humiliations suffered by women on the Western frontier. Its various segments, entitled Revelation, Exodus, Genesis and Retribution, give you a sense of its biblical origins. The main character, unsurprisingly, is a woman, Liz (a remarkable performance by Dakota Fanning who conjures a symphony of emotions without speech). Equally unsurprising is the fact that she is mute, her tongue having earlier been ripped out. No delicacy in the symbolism here.

Married to a good man (a rarity in this movie) and with two children in her care, Liz is a midwife in an isolated frontier community. A difficult birth causes problems that are accentuated by the arrival of a new preacher, someone who gives her the heeby-jeebies. This scarred fellow, played with dark relish by Guy Pearce, is the nastiest of villains, not least because of his sanctimonious attitude that apparently justifies all manner of dark deeds.

After its first chapter, the film proceeds backwards in Exodus and Genesis, explaining the background to the tense relationship between Liz and the preacher, with Emilia Jones doing a good job as Liz’s younger self. The final segment, Retribution, then returns us to the present.

The film offers us some gruesome moments: a man’s guts wrapped around his neck, pigs eating a corpse and women being belt-whipped. The film’s constant insistence on sin and hell-fire is certainly reflected in its austerely chilling images, conjured by cinematographer Rogier Stoffers, one of the production’s high points.

In the main, however, the aptly named Brimstone is a monochrome-toned film that veers too close to violence-porn, not to mention a crude self-righteousness as if the director believed that he is the first person to discover man’s inhumanity to man, or, in this case, women.

Brimstone opened at Cinema Nouveau, Gateway, on August 4. – Patrick Compton