MOVIE REVIEW: The Nightingale
It could be said that after The Babadook, its director was out in the wilderness, for years. It seemed to most that Jennifer Kent was either taking her sweet time, or her film was lost in some ‘Apocalypse Now’ fashion. Turns out that, six years later, ‘The Nightingale’ was released without a fanfare, but merely covered head to toe in controversy. The Babadook was on many people’s top list of horror films the year it came out, Britain’s leading reviewer Mark Kermode judged it the best film of 2014, but her sophomore effort is the best possible example of using that platform to make a film about something important, and this is the most important film of the last few years.
It took four years to make, and another two to be released, apart from film festivals where there were walkouts, and even personal insults hurled at the makers. In Venice the director was told ‘’shame on you’’, with loud interruptions during parts of the film that some of the audience found unsettling, and too much. That being the point, and the reason the film was made, to a degree. To expose a sensitive subject. One can only believe it has done too good a job.
The fact is that there is not nearly enough diversity amongst the film community, and when film makers are given the opportunity they often squander it with female directors making worthless junk like the recent Charlie’s Angels. To make a statement isn’t easy in an industry where the walls are up high, more so for a female. Some films that have something to say find favour and win awards, others are dismissed as politically motivated/confused, not accessible, and dangerous. To touch a nerve can work in your favour, but it can also get you buried. This is a film that pressed all the buttons at the same time, and it’s also something that needed to be made.
Rather than just building a story around gender and race issues, it is part of Jennifer Kent’s psyche that she bared for all to see, while digging into the painful and hushed history of her homeland. Combining the way people treat each other, the ideas behind colonialism, male violence, and also seeing beyond what you initially see to find the story behind that. Following one woman through a landscape of bloodshed and intolerable cruelty, her trails through the wilderness parallel the film’s struggle. A message slowly crawls out through the dirt, understandings are peeled back through circumstances that appear against all odds.
A difficult watch, that you can’t take your eyes off for the entire running time. Riveting, a word used often to describe an experience, here it is like being riveted to the chair. Painful. You want to turn away, you want to turn it off, some would even like to run away. Hence the extreme reactions of some to ‘The Nightingale’. Like a constant fist to the face, it will be the most sobering film you will see in quite some time. Whether it is to be considered a horror film is beside the point, it has impact, and it is horrific. It is an essential history lesson, and also one of the most personal expressions from an artist imaginable.
The ending is about kindness and empathy; it’s almost impossible not be watching through tear-filled eyes. Those who aren’t should have a question mark balancing above their head as the credits roll. 10/10
Second Sight release a collectors' edition Blu-ray in February.
Review by Leon Mason