February 5, 2019 The Bellwether (Movie Review)
#SmashthePatriarchy. #EverydaySexism. These are hot topics of debate in 2019, a time when our society is finally beginning to open its once blind coffers to dialogue about the advancement of women. Into this world comes The Bellwether, a Feminist Thriller that unravels a lengthy soliloquy on these hot button issues. It arrives to Digital HD on Tuesday, February 12, 2019, thanks to Giant Pictures. In addition, Los Angelinos can see the film starting on Friday, February 15th during its exclusive theatrical run at Arena Cinelounge Sunset.
A woman, a TV monitor, and a religious chapel. In The Bellwether, quiet and unassuming bookstore owner Joanne (Alex Reid: The Descent 2005, Misfits series) finds herself kidnapped by The Conspiracy, a mysterious organization that seemingly possesses ties to the church. Placed inside a locked chapel and only able to communicate with a television monitor that wishes to force her to conform, she is initially clueless as to how she has been chosen for reorientation. But Joanne is a bellwether: a member of the herd with more self-determination than the rest of the flock — and the ability to see clearly is a savagely beautiful thing.
When she is confronted by her past and forced to atone for her perceived sins, Joanne will meet the diverse sides of her personality, a confusing maelstrom of inner goddess that refuses to be falsely accused and blindly convicted by a faceless majority. Originally entitled simply Joanne, The Bellwether clocks in at 86 minutes and marks the feature-length debut of Writer/Director Christopher Morrison (…Less Than Kind short 2008, Take It to the Grave short 2015). The film features the voices of Flora Plumb (Then Came Bronson series, Mannix series) as Joanne’s mother, and Sally Clawson (Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures video game 2008, Love and Demons 2014) as her girlfriend Maria.
To get straight to the point, this is a fully unique experience as far as films go. Billed as “the world’s first English-language one-woman feature film, and a feminist elevated genre one-room movie,” The Bellwether amounts to one woman standing in a religious chapel, expounding upon issues pertinent to modern feminism: women’s rights, and ownership of our bodies being at the very forefront of that list. In short, the film is actually an extended soliloquy on a topic that is necessary to the modern advancement of women everywhere, one that is likely to ruffle feathers — which, in this instance, is great. If you are offended, you are part of the problem!
That said, Reid does a stupendous job at anchoring the entire production. Not only does she portray the somewhat conflicted Joanne, but she also depicts offshoot layers of her complicated personality — an id, ego and superego, if you will — and (literally) wars with herself. There is the Rosie the Riveter-esque protestor who dwells inside Joanne, a woman who will not conform. She exists alongside the extreme, bad ass Lisbeth Salander-esque version of Joanne, a woman intent upon being a goddess at all costs. The lesson? Well, that’s for you to experience for yourself. However, Reid’s phenomenal acting finds her pacing the room, conversing freely with herself, and detailing the inherently complicated facets of being a modern woman. It’s no easy feat, but she lends a sophistication, performance grace, and fiery zest to her character(s) that allow the intellectual debates caked into this script to shine beautifully.
It’s interesting to note that the film’s actual runtime is closer to 72 minutes, but there is bonus material embedded herein that adds an important and emotional heft to this overall production. That is, The Bellwether was shot on location at the stunning Chapelle de Marie la Misérable in Brussels, Belgium. A 14th century, Gothic slice of architecture, Marie la Misérable sits upon the site where a young woman, wrongfully accused and convicted, was executed on the spot. Guilty of little more than spurning unwanted advances from a powerful man, Marie had a sharpened stake thrust into her body with a mallet before she was buried alive. The chapel and her story stand as testaments to the injustice perpetrated against women since time immemorial, something that sits at the epicenter of The Bellwether.
The truth is always savage and dangerous. Blind conformity, antiquarian religious and societal norms, the brainwashing aspects of media, government intrusions into our personal lives — these are the dangers in our modern society for both men and women. The Bellwether tackles these ideas and shows that there is hope, that we can smash the patriarchy and author a brand-new script for our lives.
In this, the film has a deeply-embedded and unwavering strength. But — and this is the big but — it is still a woman standing in a room, debating the flaws of modern attitudes with herself. As a viewer, one must accept that the value of the film is not found in its flashy cinematography or stunning attention to minute prop details, but in its fervent hope of propelling a movement. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give The Bellwether 3.5 of 5 stars.