Introduced by Anna Navas, film programmer for the Plymouth Arts Cinema, with a Q&A with the producer Jessica Malik and the star of the film Alice Krige, She Will started In Dreams Are Monsters: The Season of the Witch series of horror films funded by the BFI that seek to explore modern-day folklore, magic, fear of the countryside and feminism.
Alice plays the role of an ageing film star Veronica Ghent who goes to a remote retreat in the Scottish highlands, to recover from surgery. She is accompanied by a young nurse, Desi (Kota Eberhardt) whom at first she treats with cold disdain, indeed, Veronica does not need or want any help from anyone. Her plans for isolation and solitude are quickly dashed when she finds the retreat has a full series of team activities run by the lively and eccentric Tirador (Rupert Everett).
Veronica and Desi soon discover the area around the retreat was a place of industry where wood was burnt to create charcoal and witches were burnt at the stake; the ashes of both mingling in the forest soil. Desi comments that the area is ‘creepy’, Veronica replies that it is ‘tragic’.
The film is very much about contrasts. We get the extreme close-ups of Veronica mixed with the wide-angle shots of the forest landscape. There is the cod spirituality of the team activities compared with the deeper, literally dirtier, intentensity of Veronica’s bonding with the landscape. Malcolm McDonald who plays Eric Hathbourne, a film star who abused Veronica when she was a child actor, is shown in the black and white geometrical structure of a city building far from nature.
What is real and fantasy or supernatural is blurred, and Veronica as a conduit for the forces of nature is able to avenge the abuse of herself and the cries of the long dead witches. She becomes a phoenix risen from the ashes of their past, and from the psychological and physical traumas of her own life.
The cinematography, music, Charlotte Colbert’s direction and Alice’s performance all combine to make this psychological thriller a powerful journey into the wilds of folklore, landscape and the unconscious.
In the Q&A session afterwards, Alice and Jessca revealed that the film was scripted at the height of the #MeToo movement so it incorporates aspects of that with the fairytale-like story structure. It was filmed in only 30 days on location and they only had four days of filming with Malcolm McDonald. As the story progressed Alice had four major changes of make-up and a selection of different costumes to reflect the narrative. They had to deal with very cold temperatures in Scotland, although Alice said sheer adrenaline kept her warm. Filming was finished just before the COVID lock-downs, making post-production more difficult to manage.
Despite the claustrophobic film sets, weather and schedule they had fun making this potent story that takes the viewer slowly but surely into the magical, horrifying and mysterious realms that lie beneath everyday reality and existence.
Reviewed by Nigel Watson