Friday, September 30, 2016

God vs humanity--round 2,439--in Larry Kent's unnerving slash-n-shock SHE WHO MUST BURN

Opening simultaneously with the beginning of Yom Kippur, this new fundamentalist-Christians-against-the-humanists movie by South-African-born Canadian filmmaker Larry Kent (below) is super-unsettling in so many ways. It refuses to soften the kind of punches pulled by most other movies in this genre (it pretty much creates its own sub-genre by its finale), while managing to combine a treatise on the ever-present subject of right-to-life vs right-to-choice with some good, old-fashioned tropes mostly found in those horror/ slasher/thriller films.

SHE WHO MUST BURN takes place in a community that may seem just a little too god-fearing for some tastes, with the local (and only, it seems) church run by a crazy zealot with even crazier parishioners who do, well, the darndest things.

The film begins with the murder, very well filmed, of a doctor in the local women's clinic, for which the murderer is immediately jailed. Then we cut to an early morning love scene interrupted by some unpleasant protesters. Soon we witness a still-born birth by a woman, with her husband in tow, who have already been told by their doctor that the fetus will not survive. (They choose to have it anyway, 'cause it's, ummm, god's will.)

Oh -- but there are problems with the environment here, too, due to hazards the local mining company is creating (fracking, perhaps?), so lots of the populace are growing sick and dying. But so stuck in their god-knows-it-all routine, served up by the wacky minister, that most of the community is willing to go farther and farther afield to punish those they consider to be the sinful.

How far? You will see. Among the good guys are the local sheriff's deputy (Andrew Moxham, above) and his girl friend (Sarah Smyth, below) -- who worked in that clinic, which has now been shut down, so she's helping out the needy from her and her boyfriend's home.

In the press release for this film, Mr. Kent is called a "cult" filmmaker, though TrustMovies has not managed to see or even hear of any of his work until now. Still, She Who Must Burn is in some ways a surprisingly impressive film. The look and tone of foreboding is caught and held very well throughout, and while the performances are just fine individually, the actors also appear to form a kind of ensemble in which each is in sync with the others. You can image these characters all living in the same community, one that has become more and more fractured over time.

The subject matter, too, is handled well. It is taken as a given that, where the subjects of god, religion, patriarchy and women's "rights" (including especially abortion) are concerned, there can be no middle ground. As directed and co-writer (with Shane Twerdun, above, who also plays the very righteous and nasty local minister), Mr. Kent lays all this out quite strongly and effectively. But it is in some of its details that the movie begin to come apart.

The murderer of that abortion doctor (played by James Wilson, below) is brought to heel quickly, presumably by the town's sheriff (Jim Francis, above). Yet later, when another woman is killed, with her daughter as witness, that same sheriff seems to want to cool his heels. And when the beleaguered threesome -- daughter, deputy and his girlfriend -- need desperately to escape but the fundamentalist crowd attempts to stop them, would they, instead of driving the hell away, simply get out of the car to present themselves as compliant victims? Perhaps chase and/or action scenes, along with a little simple logic, are not in Mr. Kent's repertoire.

Still, there is enough genuine horror here -- the idea and presentation of fundamentalists in total control and gone nutcracker wild should throw the fear of the lord (or of something more rational) into sane audiences everywhere -- to turn She Who Must Burn into a possible current cult hit for this filmmaker. (That's Missy Cross, below, center, who's particularly nutty/scary as one in the good minister's family.)

One big question, however: Why -- unless he wants to give a "balanced, non-partisan" view -- does Kent decide to bring an act of god into the picture to "muddy" up the proceedings at the finale? And, as ever, why does God, since he's so omniscient, wait until the bad guys have done their worst before showering his wrath upon them. Oh, well: Ours is not to question the big sky in the sky. Ours is simply... to get the hell out. Fast.

The movie, from White Buffalo Films via Midnight Releasing, makes its debut on Tuesday. October 11, on Cable VOD, Digital HD and DVD. Look for it on Dish Network, Cox, Charter, Verizon Fios, DirecTV, iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, XBox and elsewhere. The DVD itself can be purchased exclusively via Amazon. Rental? Well, you can add it to your Netflix quene now, but the company claims that the film's availability date is still "unknown."

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