Through a revenge film medium and a dream-like visual feast, She Will entrancingly showcases how the past lingers in the ether and earth, both as a curse and gift.
There have been multiple reiterations to the revenge thriller, or the straight-up revenge pictures that some of us know from either the Grindhouse exploitative filmography or the new modern ones. Of course, the highly provocative classic I Spit in Your Grave (1978) serves as the subgenre’s primary example. Still, plenty of other films have inspired rising filmmakers to create their renditions of revenge films (The Last House on the Left, Carrie, Audition, Irreversible). However, director-writer Charlotte Colbert didn’t want to succumb to some of the same plot strings that other revenge films have for her directorial debut. Instead, she wanted to do something that felt dream-like and hallucinogenic in its aesthetics and visuals, but with its core feeling grounded to earth, both figuratively and literally. Hence the creation of She Will – a film that is visually intoxicating (in a good way) and sharply acted, thanks to a role that Alice Krige had been dying to play.
She Will opens with “Dario Argento presents,” which causes you to think about what may come next with knowledge of the Italian horror master’s work (Suspiria, Tenebre, Opera). Argento’s films have mesmerizing visuals and images that pierce the eye – remain in your head for years. And, like Argento, although not to the same extent, Colbert delivers a feast for the eyes. However, her feature is far more potent in its imagery than its story and plot. This situation might make or break a film. Although there are occasions in which it feels as if it might all fall entirely on its face, it remains entrancing and alluring because of its metaphorical mirrorings in its cinematography. So, at least in that sense of prioritizing dream-like imagery to set the atmosphere and tone, it’s a good fit for Colbert’s debut to be presented with title card text. Yet, there are no other similarities between the two filmmakers, since this is a more arthouse horror type of movie rather than a slasher/Giallo, which is Argento’s focus.
After that short and quick text, the film begins. Its story revolves around a highly successful actress, Veronica Ghent (played by an intense and dedicated Alice Krige). She is traveling by train to a retreat way up in the Scottish highlands. Why is she searching for tranquility at this specific moment? Because she’s recovering from a double mastectomy – suffering from great deals of pain, both physical and emotional, that one couldn’t even imagine. Even though she’s hurting, Veronica doesn’t want any help from her companion, a young nurse named Desi (Kota Eberhardt), and holds her head high. When Veronica arrives at the retreat location, the people inside are mesmerized by her presence. Since she doesn’t want to deal with them being up and personal with her, she decides to go even deeper into the woods to a nearby cabin. There, Veronica begins to connect with the land surrounding the retreat’s location as if she was destined to be there.
Veronica begins to dream about her past and its toll, primarily involving a man called Eric Hathbourne (Malcolm McDowell), the director who launched her career. Something happened between the two, but as the film transgresses, the audience learns more and more details of each’s past. Through sleepwalking and image-montage sequences (which are overly edited), Veronica haunts him down – taking revenge on the man who ruined her life. She Will was not the movie I expected, but it’s far more exciting and richer than the way Colbert plotted it. The film talks about confronting your aggressors and how one is not alone in the pains of life – the fact that these situations have happened repeatedly. It’s an awakening of one’s own self by letting your memories resurface in order to feel complete again after being shattered through the decades. The true horrors shown in this picture are the ones of the past, which keep breathing and lingering in your mind, body, and soul forever.
How does She Will present this theme? By focusing on the nature surrounding us and the earth beneath – the soil, moss, grass, trees, and muck. Veronica’s connection to the earth is treated as a curse at first because she doesn’t know why she’s feeling that increasing sensation of disorientation and suffering out of the blue. Yet, as we keep learning about her past and Veronica’s connection to nature keeps growing stronger, one feels that it was never a curse at all but a gift that might haunt the person who caused her misery. In that manner, it feels like a combination of folk and cosmic horror, albeit without dwelling too much on the latter. Interestingly enough, there are parallels to Lars von Trier’s highly divisive film, 2009’s Antichrist (which I quite like), but without the provocation and exaggerated scenes. In von Trier’s feature, a couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) retreat to a cabin in the woods as means to cope with their young son’s death. The man in the couple, who is only mentioned through the pronoun “he”, is a psychiatrist and makes her go through some coping mechanisms in order to overcome that pain.
One of them is a meditation of some sort; the woman lays on the ground and blends with the earth. The two become one. The past and present are interlinked with one another, but as you notice, there is not so much change, meaning that the past isn’t going to disappear; you can only mend it. And something similar happens in She Will. Veronica walks through the forest barefoot, lays down on the mud and soil, fingerpaints with it, and even uses it as a remedy for her face. If it wasn’t clear that it is referencing Lars’ Antichrist, then the fox that appears in two brief scenes might suffice – the only thing left was for it to talk and say, “chaos reigns”. There’s also this sense that nature is talking back to the people who connect with it. This is showcased in the scenes where Veronica says that “the wind is sound like whispers” and the one where she lays down on the ground, and the audience hears the crunching of the course of the earth – as if something was crawling from within, alive and breathing.
It’s a very interesting and fascinating concept that I always enjoy when it’s depicted on film, because it is so rich. It can apply to various themes and ideas, not only referring to trauma. And although the atmosphere is appropriately set to the point where one could smell the soil, it wouldn’t have worked if it wasn’t for Alice Krige and her powerful performance. Not only does her transition between soft and hard vocal tones add layers to her character, but her mannerisms as she develops a connection with nature change as it becomes more profound. At first, she’s strict and poised, but Veronica becomes looser and surer of herself later. She Will’s weakest aspect is its script, which feels like it needed more time to be polished, especially its second act. However, for the most part, Charlotte Colbert’s directorial debut is a fascinating revenge film and a folk horror-inspired portrait of a woman confronting her aggressor and learning that she isn’t alone in this pain and suffering. There are points where I thought it would become a total mess because of its initial layout, but it surprised me with how its conclusion came to be.
She Will opened in select theaters and on demand on July 15, 2022.