When Veronica, a former movie star, travels to a remote Scottish retreat after a double mastectomy, she soon learns that it’s the site where hundreds of women were burnt at the stake as witches. Their ashes — and their suffering — has become entangled with the land. And soon, Veronica is empowered by these restless spirits to exact her own revenge on the men that wronged her.
Although the plot of She Will takes a more nuanced approach to the revenge subgenre than the likes of I Spit On Your Grave, Audition and Hard Candy, it doesn’t make Charlotte Colbert’s directorial debut any less powerful or assertive.
Using the breathtaking lochs, woodlands and landscapes of Aviemore as her canvas, Colbert paints an ethereal, dreamlike world that often feels like a twisted fairytale. Black mud crawls up stairs, into houses, and drowns men in bottomless bogs (not dissimilar to the extraterrestrial ‘black oil’ in The X-Files). Violent imagery of women burning alive is intertwined with Veronica’s flashbacks of her own sexual exploitation by her former director (played by an arguably under-utilised Malcolm McDowell). Yet, despite these fantastical elements, Colbert’s message is deeply rooted in everyday reality: from the witch trials all the way to #MeToo, misogyny and violence against women has been systemic for centuries. Whether it lurks in the shadows or in broad daylight, it’s always present.
Perhaps the closest work to She Will is Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall. In this novel, Silvie, a teenage girl wild camping in Northumberland, is haunted by the story of a woman sacrificed there centuries ago. As Silvie becomes more connected with the land, her own history of abuse is revealed. Veronica has a similar renaissance. She too becomes attuned to nature and the evils of the past and this, ultimately, empowers her to act. At the beginning of the film, Veronica stares into the mirror and states: “This mask is about preservation.” By the time the end credits roll, that mask of silence and repression is shattered. Even when Veronica uses her newly acquired powers to issue her vengeance, it’s clear who the real monsters are in this narrative.
With Dario Argento credited as executive producer, the expectation would be more guts, gore and claret, but, really, She Will doesn’t need it. The film’s haunting cinematography and subtle, constant terror are a perfect reflection of the patriarchy’s implicit (and explicit) oppression of women. It’s also superbly expressed through Alice Krige’s Veronica, who is both ferociously uncompromising and fearlessly vulnerable. Her message echoes long after the film’s crescendo: “You have to be all teeth. […] The bastards will stop at nothing to grind you down.”
22 July 2022