The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - THE WORLD TO COME | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - THE WORLD TO COME

the world to come review
In 1856 New York state, two lonely wives form a romantic bond.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mona Fastvold

Starring: Vanessa Kirby, Katherine Waterston, Christopher Abbott, Casey Affleck

the world to come poster

Is The World to Come yet another lesbian drama set against the backdrop of a period setting? Corset is. This one comes courtesy of director Mona Fastvold, who made her debut in 2014 with The Sleepwalker but is probably better known for co-writing Brady Corbet's The Childhood of a Leader and Vox Lux.

Set in 1856 Upstate New York (making this a very Eastern Western), the film introduces us to the relatively affluent but grim existence of Abigail (Katherine Waterston), who lives on a freezing cold farm with her mechanically minded husband Dyer (Casey Affleck, whose character owns a device that can peel an apple in two seconds, while in 2021 I can't get a toaster that will take a full slice of bread). Since losing their four-year-old daughter to diphtheria the previous year, the couple have lived under a cloud of unspoken grief and tension. Abigail uses the loss of her child as an excuse to shun her husband's physical advances, but we come to learn the truth of her disinterest.

the world to come review

When a young couple - Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and Finney (Christopher Abbott) - rent the neighbouring farm, Abigail befriends Tallie. The two bond over shared intellectual interests that have been suppressed by their practical partners (Dyer dissuades Abigail from purchasing an Atlas), and are soon spending their days in each other's company, neglecting their duties at home, much to the chagrin of their hubbies. As you might expect, it's not long before bodices are being ripped.

Fastvold's film adds little to the increasingly crowded field of period dramas involving lesbian longing, and it never quite justifies its historical setting. Both couples are transplanted intellectuals, and both husbands seem relatively accepting of their wives' homosexuality. When Dyer and Finney inevitably learn of the true nature of Abigail and Tallie's relationship, they seem barely shocked by the infidelity, and even less so by the lesbianism. The usual justification for setting queer dramas in the past is to mine drama from society's lack of acceptance, but that never really comes into play here.

the world to come review

The World to Come might just as easily have been set in some modern day hipster enclave (Abbott's blowhard Finney would no doubt have his own podcast while Dyer would be in charge of a struggling bubble tea outlet). Kirby's Tallie comes off as strikingly anachronistic, the sort of confident American woman that wouldn't really come to prominence until the Roaring Twenties a half century later. It's as though Paula Prentiss's character from The Stepford Wives was transplanted into a western.

If anything excuses the period setting it's the scenery. Like so many recent westerns, The World to Come was shot in Eastern Europe, Romania in this case. Cinematographer Andre Chemetoff's compositions may have you reaching for the pause button to take in the landscape shots, which range from snow-blanketed to sun-scorched. The film may be set in a harsh physical terrain, but it sure looks pretty.

the world to come review

For all its visual splendour, Fastvold's film is scuppered by its script. Abigail keeps a journal of her thoughts, which serves as a patronising voiceover that seems to believe the viewer can't decipher the images on screen for themselves. Waterston's performance is quite brilliant, so we don't need a voiceover to tell us how she's feeling in every little moment, as we can see it on the actress's face and in her movements. Rather than allowing us to bask in the unspoken heat between Abigail and Tallie, that bloody narration insists on hammering home the point. Yes, we get it, they're dying to tear each other's clothes off! We really don't need a voiceover to tell us that. Yes, we can see the land is covered in snow and blasted by wind; we don't require the narration to inform us that it's quite cold. It doesn't help that much of Abigail's narration features such cringey lines as "I feel like a library without books."

I can't think of a voiceover that has ruined a film quite as much as this, and were it removed I would possibly bump up my rating by a whole star. The World to Come tells a familiar tale but it does so with a quartet of impressive actors against a visually stunning backdrop. Why anyone would think to drown out all the good work with such inane narration is baffling.

The World to Come
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from July 23rd.

2021 movie reviews