Fantastic Fest 2021: SHE WILL is a Transfixing Tale of Trauma and Sisterhood

An impressively composed earthy folk horror with Italian roots from first time director Charlotte Colbert

Preceding a repertory screening of an Italian horror film a few years ago, the introduction reminded the audience that patience was required, that “the Italians get where they want to be, when they want to”. A blessing from Dario Argento is the first hint that She Will might require a similar preface. Deliberately paced, thoughtful and immersive. An earthy folk horror with Italian roots, that provides a remarkable showcase for the talents of Alice Krige (Sleepwalkers, Star Trek First Contact), and also first time feature director Charlotte Colbert.

Krige stars as Veronica Ghent, a renowned actress who absconds to a remote retreat in the Scottish highlands to recover from a double mastectomy. In tow is her young nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt). Upon arrival, they find the estate to be occupied by a number of guests, all engaging in a series of activities coordinated by their host Tirador (a delightful turn from Rupert Everett). Overwhelmed by the lack of privacy, Veronica‘s distress is also fueled by the news that the film that launched her career as a 13 year old girl, is being remade by her old director Eric Hathbourne (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange, Caligula). Distraught, they are forced to stay the night, and it is in her dreams that Veronica experiences visions of the past, her own and of the land around her. A place steeped in tales of witchcraft and the persecution of women. A connection to the land is forged, strengthening her, and setting her on a path to resolve and reckon with the trauma that she has long carried within.

The use of horror to explore social themes is longstanding. In this #MeToo era, She Will continues that tradition with a deeply considered piece of feminist folk horror that is born out of the ashes of women burnt at the stake. Seeking to re-frame witches not as perpetrators, but as victims and survivors of men abusing their power. Veronica comes to this place, one where the charcoal covers the ground and occasionally the sky. Local legend telling how this stems from the acts of immolation hundreds of years earlier. In her dreams she sees depictions of the land, interwoven with flashes of the pain and suffering that occurred upon it. Rather than being fearful, a spiritual connection is forged. A strength shared with these sisters of the past and also in a growing relationship with Desi. Healed, she is able to better reconcile the abuse she herself suffered at the hands of a man who is not just being celebrated, but offered yet another shot to revitalize himself. A deft critique of the double standards of the film industry and indeed society when it comes to age and sex. The blind eye turned to the wrongdoings of those in power.

The script, co-written by Colbert and Kitty Percy is sparse in dialogue, measured in pace, with a narrative secondary to the evocative visuals and performances. Colbert, multi-media artist by trade, impressively transfers her skills to a a cinematic canvas. She Will is steeped in lore and built from indelible imagery. Alongside cinematographer Jamie Ramsay, the Scottish Highlands are painted as a well-worn, textured and above all organic place. This earthy aesthetic gives way when we glimpse urban areas, a heavier grain and level of saturation comes to the fore, stimulating patterns and pops of red appear, again invoking Italian, and notably giallo aesthetics. It all marries well to build a Gothic feel, that is amplified by a truly remarkable score from Clint Mansell (The Fountain, Black Swan). It’s more than another layer to the film, it elevates it entirely. Of all the impressive artistry and composition on show, the most bewitching thing on screen remains Krige. As potent a performance as you’d expect, but unlike many of her roles, this one is rooted in vulnerability rather than power. Heavily internalized, quietly spoken, with tremendous intent in tone and movement. Eberhardt’s measured work as young Desi is a vital contrast and a companion to Krige’s work. Cinematic stalwart Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Caligula), delivers a brief but effective turn as the filmmaker whose shield of protection finally begins to falter.

Generations ago, witchcraft and the was used as a way to control and intimidate women for men to avoid accountability. In recent years women have sought to take back that label and find support in their collective. The films title speaks to this, to survival and strength through sisterhood. It also serves also a powerful reminder how the more things change the more they stay the same. Abuse runs through history, in Veronica’s past, and again in the present, through Desi’s experiences. History repeating itself. Persecution persists, trauma follows, and scars physical and psychological are formed. Charlotte Colbert taps into this legacy superbly with a meditative and nuanced debut. She Will is an transfixing piece of art house horror that elegantly weaves a spell, and eventually a timely reckoning. Some will find a fire in the past while others are doomed to fear it.

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