Brimstone

Martin KoolhovenNetherlands / France / Germany / Sweden / United Kingdom148 minutes201618AColourEnglish

Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, and Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington and Carice van Houten star in this gritty revenge western, about a young woman in a frontier community who must go on the run when she is targeted by a diabolical preacher.

The word "brimstone" conjures images of eternal damnation in a fiery hell. For midwife Liz (Dakota Fanning, also appearing at the Festival in American Pastoral), a young mother pursued by an emissary of evil across the 19th-century American frontier, the word's connotations may as well describe her experience on Earth. Martin Koolhoven's pitch-black thriller follows Liz on a harrowing journey to protect herself and the children in her charge from seemingly unstoppable malice.

Liz has a quiet country life on a farm with her kind-hearted husband and children, but we immediately sense that things are too good to be true. One Sunday, a mysterious new reverend (Guy Pearce) gives his inaugural sermon, and Liz fills with terror; her past has come back to haunt her. Following the service, a local woman goes into labour on the church floor. Through no fault of Liz's, the birth goes woefully wrong. When the woman's husband seeks revenge, the reverend comes to the rescue of Liz and her family — though he warns that punishment will soon befall her. The next day, the family's sheep are found slaughtered, Liz is sequestered, and her daughter is kidnapped. Thus begins a nigh-biblical sequence of events involving blood, fire, and an epic years-long odyssey spanning states and territories.

Establishing the stakes early on, and aided by Rogier Stoffers' lush images, Koolhoven suffuses Brimstone with tension that never lets up. Fanning snares our sympathies with her character's devotion to protect those she loves, while Pearce is chilling as an unrelenting force. Despite their opposition, both Liz and the reverend seek redemption. Only one shall apprehend it.

KERRI CRADDOCK

Female ExperienceWesternViolenceHistoryChristianity