The Nightingale Review
Last night, I announced on Facebook that there are two reasons to why I would never watch a movie again. The first reason is fairly obvious, if a movie is bad, disappointing or if the cons overwhelmingly outweigh the pros, I will more than likely have no desire to sit through it again. The second reason is if a good or great movie is so traumatic, something that is so unflinching in its void. A movie that stares into the darkness without blinking, its something that I don't know if I can sit through those movies again. "The Nightingale" is a movie that belongs in that second category.
"The Nightingale" was written and directed by Jennifer Kent, the lady who made "The Babadook." That should set the stage for you right there, because "The Babadook" is one of the best, darkest and most disturbing horror films in recent memory. What Kent has crafted with "The Nightingale" is one of those history lessons that we don't learn in school. It's not based on a true story, but it is set in a very dark moment in Australia's history. Taking place during the Black War in Australia in the mid 1800's, convicts were put to work in the British colonies in the region. Clare Carroll (Aisling Franciosi) and her husband Aiden work for the colonies. Clare is a servant and nightingale under British Army officer Hawkins (Sam Clafkin). Hawkins is possibly the worst villain in recent memory and he takes great delight in doing whatever he wants to Clare.
Things get worse for Clare when she inquires on an overdue letter of recommendation that would grant Clare and her family freedom. When Clare and her family attempt to flee, they are thwarted by Hawkins. What proceeds is one of the most hideous acts of violence I have ever seen. A film critic said that the movie isn't for the faint of heart, and even the strong of heart will have a hard time with it. It's absolutely true. Most shock movies have one maybe two hard scenes to sit through. The macabre plays throughout "The Nightingale" first twenty minutes. It never lets you off the hook. You never get to stop and catch your breath. There have been reports that people left the screenings at festivals. Even the most not-easy-to-rattle people are having a hard time coming to terms with this movie.
So let's make it clear. This is not a Saturday Night movie with your friends. Much like "The Babadook," this movie is going to leave scars. I almost planned on shutting it off after three rape scenes. Yes, there are three rape scenes and they are each as terrible as the next. I've gotten very annoyed over the years at the prospect that every time something horrible has to happen to a woman on a show or a movie, its always rape. I could write an essay on rape in film and how the MPAA is backwards when rating it. But that's for a different day. I am just trying to highlight how extreme this movie gets.
Now, "The Nightingale" isn't a shock movie that exist just to make people uncomfortable. This isn't "The Human Centipede" here. The movie fairly accurately depicts an awful time in world history. As Clare meets with a guide named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to hunt Hawkins down on his way to a promotion ceremony, the movie never becomes an hollowed-out revenge movie. This is a movie about finding your courage. Fighting for what's right, even when it will fall on deaf ears. I don't mean to get overly political, but its a great movie to highlight the MeToo Movement. So many women have been sexually degraded over the years, and seemingly nothing is done about it. This is a perfect example of how men with power abuse that power, and how it has lead to an entire gender to remain voiceless. It's easy to simply say that "if it happened to me, I'd do something about it," but its equally true that unless it happens to you, you really don't know what its like and how hard it is. I don't speak from experience, I just read what people and try to understand their situation.
One of the best scenes in the movie when Clare finally confronts Hawkins and how she shows her strength and defiance. The deck is stacked against her, he's a decorated British officer and she's an Irish convict. There is no way she'll get a room full of British officers to believe how Hawkins has wronged her. But she tells her story anyway, before revenge and violence consume her. It's a powerful, powerful moment and had the movie simply ended in blood, it would have lost some of its power. Sure, Hawkins gets what's coming to him, but how makes all the difference in the world.
I hate writing about movies that aren't for everyone. I also hate recommending movies that I personally feel I barely survived, but if this sounds like its for you, go for it. Just know what your getting yourself into. Plus, the movie drags a little bit in the last hour and I'm not sure the movie really needed to be as long as it was. But overall, this was a good sophomore outting for Kent, even if its something I'll always admire from afar.
FINAL GRADE: B