The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - SHE WHO MUST BURN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - SHE WHO MUST BURN

A small town is menaced by a family of religious fundamentalists.

Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Larry Kent

Starring: Sarah Smyth, Jewel Staite, Missy Cross, Andrew Dunbar

Director Larry Kent has his sights on hypocrisy and authority, and, while She Who Must Burn may be manipulative, it's also challenging and convincing, with a power that is hard to deny.

If they’ve got the basics right, then most horror films should at least offer their audience the thrill of the scare; that safe buzz that’s usually shrugged off by the time the credits have rolled. But there are some horrors that go further, and get under your skin in different ways, instilling both a sense of disgust, but also an anger that is pretty hard to shake. Think Night of the Living Dead’s racial subtext, Rosemary’s Baby’s bourgeoisie nightmare; these are the horrors that tend to stick with you. Taking the extremities of far right Christian anti-abortion advocates as its scenario, She Who Must Burn is a horror in the truest sense, a film that unflinchingly holds a mirror up to certain facets of humanity, and challenges us to witness the distortion reflected within the frame.

The monsters in She Who Must Burn are not supernatural or other worldly, they’re just a few steps further from people we probably recognise already: people who blindly subscribe to an ideology, or people who use said ideology to justify their sadism and sense of entitlement (and I’m not just discussing religious examples here - look at the Ghostbusters furore for a depressing example of mob rule). And this type of person, these sort of people, are terrifying because of their very inflexibility. Like the Terminator, you can’t reason with them, or even begin to hope to discuss your differences: from their point of view, they’re entirely justified. They see themselves as the protagonist. And, the bad news is, as She Who Must Burn suggests, they’re out there right now.

Produced and filmed in Canada, but set within America’s deeply conservative Bible Belt (I’m assuming, as Canada is one of the few countries that has no law restricting abortion), She Who Must Burn follows a family group of religious fanatics as they terrorise a small town, in the belief that they are, of course, God's chosen ones. The violent immutability of the Baarkers is set in the opening scenes, when the family patriarch graphically shoots a doctor in the face, and continues as the Baarkers protest the home of beatific Angela (Sarah Smyth), an abortion councillor, and her cop fella (Mac- Andrew Moxham).

At the Baarker homestead meanwhile, chief tosspot and central pastor Jeremiah (Shane Twerdun) subjects his wife Margaret (Jewel Staite) to rape and beatings, finally flipping his lid when he finds out she’s on contraception. Margaret subsequently seeks refuge at Angela’s home, seemingly the only place free from the Baarker’s malign influence. We’re given the impression that the church has domination over the area, holding interests in the council and the mining company that serves as the town’s main source of employment. Mac’s beleaguered chief is resigned to his lack of effectiveness compared to the Baarker’s power and even the film’s impressive folky soundtrack wails in lamentation for this hell on earth. As the imperative title implies, this isn’t going to end well for these women.

Writer/Director Larry Kent (star Shane Twerdun shares writing duties) has been knocking about for 50 years, and She Who Must Burn has the intuitive quality that comes from a veteran film maker. A palpable tension is evident throughout the film; Kent shoots action and character scenes in close ups that are just slightly too tight, creating an instinctive sense of discomfort. At times, the artistry is a little on the nose, with the Baarker’s church set against a backdrop of gathering clouds, and the interior all chiaroscuro lighting and flickering candles. There’s no need for such horror signifiers as the Baarkers are a terrifying enough bunch as it is. Framing them within such generic contexts is unnecessary, and almost allows us to relegate these fanatics from potential real life threat to boogeymen figures.

The harrowing violence, however, is harder to deny. There’s a still birth sequence early in the film that shows us how uncompromising Kent’s filmmaking is, and will also render most horror sequences you’ve witnessed this year daft and trivial in comparison. She Who Must Burn’s unassumingly low-key production values differentiate the vivid gore and violence as strikingly incongruous, consolidating the Baarker’s cruelty as a vicious abomination impinging upon the everyday.

She Who Must Burn certainly has a paradigm, and your acceptance of Kent’s messages, and, indeed, how far the film is exploitative, will vary depending on your own point of view (although I’m sure that we can agree that the decisions and debates surrounding abortion will probably ensue more sensibly without a bunch of murderous scum - in this film and in real life - stirring the pot). The Baarkers' bloodlust and desire for their God’s glory overwhelms all logic when, confused, they set their sights on anyone seeking medical attention, and eventually target a cancer sufferer. Kent is careful (especially when it comes to the inscrutable ending) to demonstrate that the Baarkers are not representative of an entire belief system. Violence, intimidation, cruelty: you ain’t no Christian, Baarker. Kent instead has his sights on hypocrisy and authority, and, while She Who Must Burn may be manipulative, it's also challenging and convincing, with a power that is hard to deny.

She Who Must Burn is on VOD (Itunes:  now.