Review: SHE WILL, More Than a Revenge Horror Fable
She did. That is, Charlotte Colbert did.
She’s one of a few first-time directors who turned in great movies at Fantastic Fest in 2021. What seemed like it may be a grim and broody revenge horror fable becomes… something else, something emerging as more a story of empowerment, justice and, new beginnings. She Will wowed audience members I spoke to, and I took time to see it twice. Most importantly, it seemed to linger over the festival, coming up time and again in conversation.
Veronica Ghent (Alice Krige) is a retired actress seeking solitude, and recovery from a radical mastectomy at a remote Scottish retreat. Upon arriving with her nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt) in tow, she is horrified to discover others are present and the retreat is being led by a foppish new age would-be guru named Tirador (Rupert Everett).
Settling into a disgruntled routine at a cabin away from the main house, Veronica discovers that her new body invites new questions about her autonomy, an abusive past, and her relationship with the man who made her famous, a film director named Hathbourne (Malcolm McDowell). And, all the while, the thick peat covering the forest floor seeps into the cabin, ash mixed with human bones falls from the sky, and nightmares signal potentially dangerous changes in the balance of power.
The film takes us back and forth to their respective worlds; hers of deep introspection and his of undeserved honor. Dread mounts, a confrontation seems inevitable, but the outcome of that conversation depends on a willingness to see, to take ahold of history and move into the unknown.
The word inimitable gets thrown around alot but is thoroughly appropriate when attached to Alice Krige. She never fails to elevate material, bringing nuance to even the most obvious of characters. In Chariots of Fire (1981), for which she won the Academy Award for Supporting Actress, she played a Gilbert and Sullivan singer.
She was the leading lady/deadly ghost in Ghost Story (1981) She has been a witch (Gretel and Hansel, 2020), and even a Borg queen (Star Trek: Generations, 1996) but here we get the benefit not only of her talent for bringing genre characters to life but of a complexity rooted in her own career.
Krige, a stunning beauty, has often appeared nude onscreen. The role of Veronica, an elderly woman, her large surgical scars on full display, inevitably deconstructs that image older fans might have of Krige, inviting us to reconsider our connections to characters like Alma Mobley in Ghost Story or even Mary Brady in the decidedly silly Sleepwalkers (1992). For those who don’t have those connections to her earlier career, Krige sinks so deeply into the role of Veronica they are likely to be able to look anywhere else when she is onscreen.
The rest of the cast more than keeps up. Kota Eberhardt is Desi. The character is young, a bit naive. But she is also the very definition of empathetic intelligence, quick to let Veronica know that she considers her job as companion nurse to be far more than a job. I would very surprised if Eberhardt doesn’t become a very busy, very visible, lead player in short order.
Rupert Everett is amusing enough as Tirador the eccentric retreat leader. His aging physicality meets a broadly comic, slightly threatening performance reminding us that he is a genius when he turns his talents toward satirizing the rich and powerful. Whoever Tirador is, he is not to be taken seriously, until he should be.
McDowell here deserves special mention. He shows Hathbourne to be exactly what we would expect. He inhabits chairs on talk shows, reminding people of his own importance even as he feigns humility over an impending knighthood. But, more than anything else, he seems defined by his aloneness, the type of aloneness that only comes from a lifetime of hiding one's true self from the world.
He wanders his mansion, scotch in hand, unable to grasp exactly what’s eating at him. Where did it all go wrong? The film provides him the inevitable chance to discover and own that but even in the predictable reactions of a confronted abuser, it’s impossible to see McDowell’s character as merely some cartoon villain.
McDowell (who himself actually declined a knighthood some years ago) imbues the character with too much nuance to dismiss Hathbourne as a mere bit of characterized contrivance. He seems to exist as well all do, in a life that ultimately demands ownership of the truth. His willingness to own or disown that truth is what will shape his destiny in the end.
Visually, the film is an earthy bit of folk horror. Stunning land and forest-scapes abound, mixing with the more intimate positions the camera takes when concentrating on characters. Special effects are excellent and Colbert employs montage at points to sink us deep into the characters emotionality. Moments involving astral travel are handled at times with a matter of factness that requires no special visual flourishes leaving one with the impression that magic is simply an unseen part of the natural world.
I really can’t recommend She Will enough. But I recommend a second viewing even more. It is the kind of film that refuses to be simply labeled by those who would want to discuss it only in relation to the Me Too movement even as it empowers and, a society so desperately in need of facing its own past.
Review originally published in October 2021. The film opens in select movie theaters and On Demand Friday, July 15, via IFC Midnight.