Have you ever watched a film that has made you skin crawl – not only as you are watching, but for days afterwards? Ever seen a movie that has left you reeling or feeling quite genuinely sick? Fair warning: Brimstone is likely to do all of the above, but you can rest assured it’ll be one of the most powerful things you sit through... if you’re able to sit through it, that is.
The arrival of a formidable Reverend (Guy Pearce) in a small town in America’s pioneer west shakes local mute midwife Liz (Dakota Fanning) to her very core. The reason for her deep-seated fear is unclear, but one thing is evident: his arrival paralyses Liz with fear, turning her world upside down and threatening to destroy the life she has built for herself. Unable to explain her alarm to her loving husband, he does not share in it, until disturbing events start taking place, threatening not only the couple themselves but the children they share.
Chronicled over four distinct chapters – Revelation, Exodus, Genesis and Retribution – we begin to understand the connection between Liz and The Reverend, and learn why this mighty man of God is so determined to put a seemingly innocent woman through hell.
Pearce’s Reverend is one of the most horrific characters ever to befoul our screens, and as such, he is extreme, to say the least. As we often find with a character of this nature, not all audiences can get on board with this extremity, so he is sure to divide opinion in a way reminiscent of the response to just about every Jack Nicholson performance. Both in the case of the legendary Mr Nicholson and Brimstone’s villain, my take is the same: it works. Boy, does it work.
Guy Pearce deserves nothing but praise for his performance; one that crawls under your skin and makes you shiver, slithers into your stomach and makes you want to heave, and creeps into a quiet corner of your mind, keeping you up at night.
It’s a hard performance to stand alongside, but Dakota Fanning does an excellent job. Unable to use her voice, she does things with her eyes and body language that speak louder than words and the result is the very personification of fear. As she remains silent, the resilience she shows has us shouting warnings and encouragement at our screems. Superb supporting performances are given by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington and Clarice van Houten, and Emilia Jones confirms herself as one of the most exciting young actors to watch.
Never have I struggled so much to review a film; I am in two minds, utterly contradicting one another. On the one hand, Brimstone is deeply affecting. I left the cinema shaking, clutching my friend for dear life yet unable to speak to her, both of us feeling we were experiencing something akin to shell-shock. While this may not sound like a good thing, I’m inclined to think that having such a strong, visceral reaction to a film is a testament to its strength of storytelling. From its use of music to its intense characterisation, there is no arguing that this film tells one hell of a story, and tells it well.
On the other hand, if there is one word I could use to summarise Brimstone, it would be brutal. Every horrible thing in the world you can possibly imagine is contained here within, and the filmmakers do not shy from portraying them all in a way so blunt they are hard to swallow. Murder, rape, violence, gore, mutilation, incest, torture, self-harm, flagellation, paedophilia, abuse in every dimension... just listing them all is exhausting, imagine having to witness them all without being given two minutes to recover from one before being thrown into the next. It’ll have you screaming for mercy before the end credits. Put simply? Horrific.
I think knowing what you’re in for is key to appreciating this film. It packs one hell of a punch, but it’s likely to knock you out if you don’t know it is coming... I didn't. If you do, and you think you can withstand it, then Brimstone is definitely one worth seeing. I can genuinely say I’ve never seen another like it, and whether you love it or hate it, there is no question that it will stir in you the mother of all reactions.
IN UK CINEMAS 29 SEPTEMBER