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Fiery portrait of Old West

Guy Pearce is a chilling presence in blood-soaked parable that follows a terrifying life journey

28 September, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Guy Pearce as The Reverend, a violent, deluded preacher, in Brimstone

BRIMSTONE
Directed by Martin Koolhoven
Certificate 18

THIS blood-soaked parable uses biblical references to create an image of God’s unforgiving fire.

We have heard of the terrible belief mechanism of Daesh in modern times. Here we have a lead character in the form of The Reverend (Guy Pearce, giving it some nasty) who abides by a similar system of hounding and persecuting women through his own, unique interpretation of the Bible back in the Old West.

Liz (Dakota Fanning) is the centrepiece of the story, which revolves around her relationship with her religious fanatic of a father.

Split into four chapters, each with a biblical reference as a heading to give the viewer a warning of what will proceed, this film takes us on an epic journey through the Old West.

Liz is an abused child in a house ruled by a man who believes he is absolutely the physical messenger of the Almighty, and abuses his position to the detriment of the females arounds him.

We are given a taste of quite how unenlightened this community of Dutch settlers are when Liz, a midwife for the community, takes the blame for a birth that goes wrong. This is but one small aspect of a fairly terrifying life journey we are party to: her mother has been roundly abused, and she attempts to escape to forge a different life – this time in a house of ill repute in a faraway town, where the tormentors flip from her father to pimps, sheriffs and gold miners. It offers no respite, and with her father pursuing her, Liz must yet again move on to escape and rebuild her life.

This is incessantly grim stuff, with some seriously dark subject matter.

But at least it does manage to create a context for the look-away moments of which there are plenty, and the story arc is clever by jumping through time.

Elements work. Pearce has a chilling Dutch accent as the violent, deluded preacher and holds the focus nicely, while Fanning also creates a character to root for.

It is let down by two things: firstly, the subject matter is so unpleasant you may wish to avoid having it in your life if you visit the cinema for some escapism. At times you will think, oh please, no. Then there are parts of the production that have a made-for-TV feel about them. The clapboard buildings look like they were knocked up by a team of studio technicians yesterday, not homes for rugged frontiersmen. There is little Spaghetti Western dirt smeared.

But it does do something often ignored in the genre: we are reminded that the Old West was not just peopled by harmless farmers searching for land in peaceful ways, but also religious fanatics who had left Europe in search of a seat closer to God.

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