Directed by Martin Koolhoven

A bravura turn from Dakota Fanning and intensely beautiful cinematography give this film what merit it has, but in what becomes a pompous, self-important tale of evil, there’s a feeling of wallowing in over-the-top violence and cruelty and suffering that is laid on so thick it eventually begins to pall, and that half-sickening, half bored ‘Here we go again’ feeling kicks in.

The evil is mostly wrought by the almost pantomimic figure of ‘ The Reverend’, played with full-on glare by Guy Pearce. The Reverend stalks the simple settler communities of the West unchecked over many years, received into churches and revered without question, though he’s so loopy that some church elder would surely have rumbled him. Full of the idea that his tastes, sexual and physical, are  what God intends for him, he has a particularly nasty talent for violence.

He’s the sort of man who doesn’t just hack a man almost to death, he also half-throttles him with his own intestines. Not necessary.  Rape and every kind of murder are his stock in trade, and you sicken at the sight of yet more brain tissue and torn flesh, which would be almost funny in its excess were it not that its visions of cruelty perpetrated on the female body, culminating in the graphic lashing of a 5-year old girl, feel increasingly gratuitous.

It’s all beautifully shot and well-acted, despite an increasingly  ludicrous plot. But to present some kind of feminist fable, wrapped in gorgeous scenery and the fashionable minimalist look of settler Protestantism, alongside broken bodies and melodramatic dread is lamentable, and a waste of talent.

Seen at London Film Festival October 2016


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