Brimstone (2016)

December 13th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Martin Koolhoven; Cast: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Emily Jones, Carice van Houten; USA 2016, 148 min.

Dutch writer/director Martin Koolhoven brings a new chapter to the history of male-on-female violence depicted in film. That this all-out exploitation feature is sold as a feminist revenge story makes it even worse.

Set as a 19th century Western and told as an elliptical flashback story, BRIMSTONE is an ultra-violent, voyeuristic joy ride featuring a deranged Reverend (Pearce), who hunts down his daughter Liz (Fanning), to fulfil his God-given right to incest, quoting the biblical story of Lot and his daughters as an example. Having driven Liz’ mother Anna (Van Houten) to suicide, the Reverend then enjoys sex with his daughter who also happens to be his granddaughter. Liz has a long history of male-inflicted suffering in a brothel, where the film then features endless sequences that would look radical even on a common or garden porn site.

Koolhaven has a lot to answer for: why, for example, did he cast a six-year old girl and then give her the following dialogue: “Has your mother told you what a whore is?” Other scenes depict gratuitous violence directed towards women – did he really believe this is not exploitation at its worse? By all means hit at abuse to illustrate the point, but to over-expose it merely adds insult to injury. And to makes matters worse these scenes are almost wordless, the female characters having very little dialogue to express their feelings or concerns in defence of their treatment. Occasionally Koolhoven descends into self-parody in the scene where the Reverend tells his victims to be aware of men, describing them as “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. Filmed in panoramic shots by Dutch DoP Roger Stoffers, Brimstone breaks the records for disingenuous virtue-signalling AS


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