It’s rainy, it’s dark, it’s 19th century Wales. There’s a noise outside. Gwen, a teenage girl, goes outside to investigate.
Don’t go out there, your gut yearns to shout. Years of horror movies have conditioned me. But out she goes.
Gwen lives with her mother and younger sister. They have next to nothing – their makeup bags legit comprising of a pointy stick with which to prick their fingers and use the blood as blusher. Her father is absent, away at war. Her mother is mysteriously ill. Her neighbours are disappearing, one by one, a mining company encroaching on the land. But there’s also a darkness that comes knocking. Strange things are happening, inexplicable things.
Their sheep all get disemboweled. A heart, pierced through with nails, is left at their front door. Gwen’s mother is getting weirder by the minute, up to strange rituals after dark, and the villagers are getting antsy. And so am I!
Tonally, this movie reminds me a lot of The Witch. Creeping, ominous shots do more to drum up suspense than jump scares or actual gore. But in the shadows, everything feels threatening. Candle light is the scariest light, isn’t it? But even the weather is threatening. Even the isolation of the landscape is threatening! Every darn thing is scaring me and thee’s nothing I can do.
Maxine Peake, as Gwen’s mother Elen, is excellent. She’s unreadable, sinister, cruel, but with flashes of maternal instinct that leave you breathless. You watch the smile leave her face and it’s like watching the sun slowly dip down below the horizon, so incremental, so mesmerizing.
But it’s Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen who’s the break-out star, named as one of TIFF’s 2018 Rising Stars, and with good reason. She struggles to keep her family together even as she too begins to suspect her mother of dark and unforgivable things.
Gwen is an atmospheric and beautifully shot film by William McGregor. Check it out if you dare.
[Side note: this film reminds me how much Cinderella has misled me about feeding chickens. Apparently a fistful of seed in the pocket of my apron is not sufficient. I wonder how many innocent chickens might have starved to death due to this negligent film making by Disney? And yes, I did focus on that in order to not lose my shit while watching a scary movie BY MYSELF. So sue me.]