Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Run time: 136 minutes
The Lowdown: Six years after capturing lightning with her terrifying depiction of parental dread and paranoia, The Babadook, Australian director Jennifer Kent has returned with a searing historical revenge thriller that couldn’t be more different, or more difficult to watch.
The Nightingale is set in 1825 during the ethnic cleansing of Van Diemen’s Land, what’s now Tasmania, and follows the tribulations of Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a young Irish convict, who is forced into servitude for soldiers in return for her eventual freedom.
Despite being married with a newborn, Clare is subjected to horrific sexual abuse by Hawkins (Sam Claflin), the brutal leader of the troops, which include Ruse (Damon Herriman) and Jago (Harry Greenwood), who repeatedly rape her and destroy everything she loves.
With nothing left to lose, Clare enlists Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an aboriginal tracker, to help her hunt Hawkins and his party as they trudge through the wilderness toward a new military encampment.
The Nightingale doesn’t shy away from the shameful history of racism and genocide that marked this particular period in history, and Kent keeps her camera firmly fixed during some of the most extreme and unnerving sequences.
The dearth of hope and justice is almost overwhelming, which sounds bleak, but should have made for a more cathartic release once Clare begins to exact her vengeance. Unlike I Spit on Your Grave or Ms. 45 or any of the recognized “women in peril” exploitation classics, the realization that there are no winners in such a struggle slowly bubbles up until, as a viewer, you recognize that for Clare, there is to be no happy ending, no fist in the air, hear me roar declaration of victory over her oppressors.
Does that lessen the impact of The Nightingale? Honestly, yes, and no.
It’s tough at times to champion a female protagonist who is so slow to see the solidarity she shares with the brown-skinned indigenous people who are being systematically stalked and eradicated. That fact that Clare and Billy finally forge an uneasy alliance, birthed from dual tragedies, isn’t quite enough to shake the belief that Clare bears some responsibility for what is happening, even if clearly not as much as the heartless mercenaries she vows to slaughter.
The Nightingale is just as raw as The Babadook, and just as confidently written and lensed, but it’s a singular viewing experience and not a movie that any fan is likely to revisit anytime soon for a second watch.
Don’t let that dissuade you, however. The Nightingale deserves to be seen because more than anything, it stands as a testament to Kent’s filmmaking fearlessness and serves as yet another reminder that true cinema auteurs like her aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty when dealing with the historical realities of our painful past.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – It’s not that kind of movie.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Minimal.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Hawkins and his men.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Doctor Sleep (Warner Bros., 180 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): The greatest cinematic travesty of 2019, not to mention the past two decades, for those keeping score at home, was the collective shrug from horror fans when Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep opened in November.
Flanagan’s film achieved two milestones in one movie. It was by far one of the Top Three best movie adaptation of a Stephen King novel, ever, and it seamlessly merged King’s literary sequel with his earlier classic, “The Shining,” both the novel and subsequent Stanley Kubrick film, in a way that few people would have predicted possible.
Doctor Sleep was an undeniable masterpiece by a filmmaker who has rarely made a misstep, and yet his remarkable achievement was met with a seismic yawn upon its arrival.
Undeterred, Flanagan and Warner Brothers are now releasing his Director’s Cut, which runs about a half-hour longer than the theatrical version, and the end result is an even richer, more character-centric movie than the movie that wowed just about every reputable film critic who saw it in November.
The Director’s Cut is absolutely worth your money, and here’s why: More, more, more.
Okay, maybe you need just a little more in the way of actual explanation.
The Doctor Sleep director’s cut has imbedded chapter titles, which help to separate the action in a way that makes sense. Plus, titles, dude. It’s a literary thing that us geeks like.
It has much more in the way of screen time with young Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), whose shine is on par with, if not greater than, Dan Torrance’s own ability, as well as providing more scenes with her parents too. This is important for many reasons, the least of which is that it presents a clear contrast to Torrance’s own upbringing with his father (which we know how that turned out).
The extra time allows Flanagan to more fully immerse viewers in the epic downward spiral that finally drives Torrance (Ewen McGregor) away from alcohol and his demons to the little town where he earns his new nickname, Doctor Sleep. Rock bottom has rarely looked this awful outside of a supersized episode of Intervention.
It spends more time with Rose the Hat and Crow Daddy and Snakebite Andi and the rest of the True Knot, which fans of the book should welcome warmly, as the only way to truly understand the threat and the evil that the True Knot represents is to understand more about who and what its members are.
And finally, just to really drive home how nasty the shine-suckers are, the director’s cut of Doctor Sleep also spends more time with some of its victims and their families, which allows viewers to forge connections to these characters in a way that helps their individual stories (not to mention their bloody fates) to resonate that much more.
The House That Jack Built: Director’s Cut (Shout! Factory, 153 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): It’s official, I just can’t seem to get myself invested in a film by Lars von Trier, no matter how hard I try.
Following his past explorations into pulpy genre tropes, including 2009’s sex-and-violence orgy Antichrist and 2011’s apocalyptic disaster family drama Melancholia, neither of which held me rapt with attention, I had high hopes for von Trier’s episodic serial killer diary, The House that Jack Built, especially since Shout! Factory wisely chose to release von Trier’s unrated director’s cut.
Billed as an immersive deep dive into the mind of evil, a la Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and starring Matt Dillon, The House that Jack Built should have left me stunned.
Instead, honestly, I was kind of bored.
Maybe it was just my frame of mind, or it wasn’t the right time to try and lose myself in this film, but for whatever reason, it didn’t work. I made it through the first of five murder vignettes but it was a struggle, even with the always-luminous Uma Thurman playing Jack’s initial victim.
After that, I only got through about 10 minutes of the second segment, despite immediately recognizing Siobhan Fallon from Men in Black.
I’m going to leave The House that Jack Built on my shelf for a few weeks and see if I get inspired. As for making your own decision about watching this one, I can only recommend that you try to have patience as von Trier remains meticulous and plodding to a fault.
Rabid (Shout! Factory, 108 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): One of 2019’s best films finally arrives on home media, which means that fans can finally see first-hand why myself and others went ga-ga for Rabid.
The Soska Sisters have completely reimagined David Cronenberg’s classic tale of body horror for a new generation.
The changes are both subtle and substantial. To add context to their heroine’s plight, the Twisted Twins use the backdrop of fashion design and their main heroine's career as an overlooked artist.
But the awesome body horror that they cook up, including a ferociously gory third-act sequence, as well as a surprisingly poignant mad scientist coda that is both shocking and devastating in the way that it handles a main character’s fate, is what elevates this redo into that rarefied air reserved for the best modern-day remakes.
The Good Liar
Donten: Laughing Under the Clouds – Gaiden: Three Film Collection
Playing with Fire