The Nightingale

The Nightingale
The Nightingale
Directed by Jennifer Kent
Starring Sam Claflin, Aisling Franciosi, Damon Herriman, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell and Nathaniel Dean
In UK Cinemas November 29th, 2019

by Alex Plant

Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film The Babadook was in many ways a perfect debut feature. So much more than just a piece of genre filmmaking, it was one of the films that helped spawn the “elevated horror” genre that is so in vogue currently, alongside movies like It Follows and The Witch. It was a beautifully shot, bold and uncompromising examination of the strain that grief can have on a family unit, told through the lens of a supernatural horror movie. With The Nightingale Kent has crafted a movie equally, if not more, horrifying as The Babadook but the big difference is that The Nightingale is absolutely not a horror movie.

Set in colonial Tasmania in 1825, The Nightingale is the story of Clare (Franciosi), an Irish convict working for her freedom in the service of cruel British army officer Hawkins (Claflin). After he commits an egregious act against her young family, she enlists the help of an aboriginal tracker named Billy (Ganambarr), and chases Hawkins across the untamed bushland, desiring nothing but bloody revenge.

This is an unflinching look at the horrors of colonialism and toxic masculinity. Sam Claflin is a very likeable man, but here he plays one of the most deeply unpleasant and evil characters ever to appear on the silver screen. The truly terrifying part is that we know men like this existed (and in some places still do) and that they were able to get away with the type of truly reprehensible behaviour on display here. Special credit should also be given to Damon Herriman, who is a having a fantastic year for portraying abhorrent psychopaths, having played Charles Manson no less than two times, as well as starring in Judy and Punch. This film belongs to Franciosi though, who delivers an absolute tour de force performance that will surely mark her as someone to watch out for come awards season. The Nightingale also marks the debut performance from aboriginal actor Baykali Ganambarr, who is the absolute heart of the movie and is no less than fantastic.

The attitudes and behaviour on display in here are horrific and frequently upsetting. The British treat the Irish like scum, but then they both treat the aboriginal people like animals. This isn’t a heavy-handed treatment of racial attitudes, and knowing the way that aboriginal people are still marginalised in Australia gives this movie an extra layer of tragedy. Kent rarely shies away from graphic imagery here and she occasionally dabbles in more surreal dalliances, which are equally horrifying and add an extra psychological layer to proceedings. She has a particular knack for shooting darkness and making it seem terrifying, which certainly makes one hope that she might return to the horror genre for future films. Though, if she continues to produce films as brutal as this, she may not need to.


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