August 12, 2019 GWEN (Movie Review)
In the dark and lush Welsh folk tale GWEN, one young woman must face a mysterious fog of darkness to keep her family alive. RLJE Films deliver this beautiful new Horror-Thriller in theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on Friday, August 16th, 2019.
In the 19th century, in the Snowdonia region of Northwest Wales, teenage Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox: Maleficent 2014, The Enfield Haunting mini-series) and her family live in the shadows of a slate quarry that has made a lord out of Mr. Wynne (Mark Lewis Jones: Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017, Chernobyl mini-series). As her mother Elen (Maxine Peake: Messiah: The Harrowing mini-series, The Theory of Everything 2014) struggles to keep the family sheep farm afloat while awaiting her father’s (Dyfrig Evans: Hinterland series, Darren Drws Nesa series) return from the war, Gwen and her adorable little sister Mari (Jodie Innes) try to hold onto hope.
When a series of shocking events spin the family’s luck in the wrong direction, the tension begins to mount between mother and teen daughter. Struggling to help keep her family alive, haunted by her mother’s mysterious illness and bizarre actions, Gwen will have to grow up quickly if she wants her family to outlast the haunting presence that lurks in the shadows.
Clocking in at 84 minutes, GWEN marks the feature-length debut for exceptional Writer-Director William McGregor (Who’s Afraid of the Water Sprite short 2009, The Missing series). It also features the acting talents of Richard Harrington (Spooks series, Hinterland series), Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Doctor Strange 2016, Mary Poppins Returns 2018), Richard Elfyn (Killer Elite 2011, Apostle 2018), and Gwion Glyn.
Billed as a Horror-Thriller, GWEN definitely leans much closer to a Historical Drama with elements of Mystery and Thriller. A Gothic story with undertones of the supernatural, including veiled allusions to witchcraft, the film is a dark folk tale that, while fictitious, could easily have been one family’s reality in 1800s Snowdonia amidst the Industrial Revolution.
Filmed on location in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, Wales, GWEN is a lush tale, a visually stunning masterpiece that moves like a fog on the smallest of cat feet. In this respect, one might compare the film to 2015’s The Witch, another historical and haunting offering that also focuses on mood over thrills and chills. An exquisitely beautiful slow burn set amongst a naturally moody landscape, the film pairs the supernatural with real-life struggles, dealing in nuance and subtleties.
Certainly without great acting even the best screenplay is doomed to fail, and Gwen’s ensemble cast are phenomenal in their roles which, more often than not, rely on body language over verbiage. Peake’s Elen wears the weight of the world upon her shoulders, a mother struggling to keep her family going as the entire town seemingly turns against them. Much like the craggy landscape, she is moody, not a doting mother figure, and her actions are often peculiar or downright harsh. This provides the perfect complement to Worthington-Cox’s soft-spoken Gwen, a young woman with her entire life ahead of her who is trying to see the good around her. She trusts without hesitation, shows kindness and respect toward animals, and has a heart that is likely to be broken quickly in this cruel world. Both talented ladies deliver exceptional performances, with young Worthington-Cox easily proving how she earned the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival Rising Star award.
With an emphasis on its enchanting visuals and setting a mood rather than extraneous dialogue and a myriad of subplots, GWEN is a fairly simple tale. In fact, one might say that this is a David vs. Goliath story: a simple sheep-herding family pitted against the might of industry. Though, for feminists, GWEN is also the chronicle of a family of witches—women who have the audacity to fight back, who dare to say no and who are burned at the metaphorical stake for their defiance. A twofold offering that demands deeper thought, GWEN is an exceptional journey into lush, Gothic storytelling. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give GWEN 5 of 5 stars.