Saturday 23 July 2022

Primitive painting: "She Will"

Preceded on our screens this weekend by an ominous "Dario Argento Presents", the title of Charlotte Colbert's heavily touted debut
She Will invites interpretation as both pronoun-verb and hyphenless noun. For a long while, we're not sure what either of those meanings applies to. What's certain is that we're deep in slowburn horror territory, our travelling companions a veteran actress (Alice Krige) making a Highland retreat to recover from a mastectomy, and a young American nurse (Kota Eberhardt) assigned to dole out the painkillers and keep an eye on the scars. Once everybody's in place and unpacked, it becomes clear we're here to witness a disinterring of one kind or another. A gravestone on the outskirts of the pair's country cottage bears the prominent date of 1722, or just after quarter past five as the old joke goes; there are warnings of peat in the water supply, and a muddy ooze swelling up from the ground everywhere else; and there are sudden, jolting flashcuts to guest star Malcolm McDowell - always trouble in films such as this - as a filmmaker who directed our heroine when she was a child and is now doing the press rounds with talk of a remake.

The self-reflexivity of that strand may have been a factor, but really there's only one reason Argento had to have jumped aboard: uncanny atmosphere, with which She Will fair spills over. An opening montage, the first of several eyecatching juxtapositions here, rhymes life-changing surgery with reparatory make-up; a succession of vivid dream sequences - set up narratively by the heavy medication the actress is rattling around on - hint at past witchery, to the strains of Clint Mansell's Goblin-echoing score. (I suspect the frustrated architect in Argento would also have relished a couple of overhead plan shots in which some version of our heroine stalks McDowell around the angular footwells and circular stairways of TV studios and private members' clubs, a harpy in boystown.) Yet She Will deviates from the essentially urban Argento in its earthiness. As Krige's vengeful Gaia reconnects altogether forcefully, indeed lethally, with nature, we're set to watching what looks very much like an expansion of that folk-horror tradition that - from Robin Hardy to Ben Wheatley - has typically been the preserve of men. (This mud has an element of Lars von Trier's The Kingdom about it, a bubbling-up of something historical and long-repressed.)

Sometimes that expansion comes over as a little clumsy. The mood and framing are much more convincing than the storytelling, which tends towards the obvious. There's no mystery whatsoever about the McDowell character, and equally you wouldn't be wrong if you sensed no good can come from the nurse's liaison with a hunky, mushroom-carrying local swain. Expansion it may be, but She Will is also a continuation of that post-#MeToo strain of popular culture that remains paranoid indeed about the state of play between the sexes. Colbert's heroines are oddly passive, forever done unto while we wait for this narrative to open up. I also wasn't wild about the rather slaphappy social satire featuring Rupert Everett in furs as a group therapist, scenes that demonstrate only that screening procedures aren't what they used to be. (They waste the great Ken Collard, seen sat at the back with nothing to say.) Still: half an hour in, while set to painting a loch, Krige's Veronica grabs a handful of that ooze and smears it across her canvas. In the film's most effective stretches, that's what Colbert herself seems to be doing. It's messy and primitive in some respects, but also textured, striking and full of life. Something might just be taking root here.

She Will is now playing in selected cinemas, and available to rent via Prime Video, Curzon Home Cinema and YouTube. 

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