Writer/Director Jennifer Kent once scared the wits out of audiences with her first film, The Babadook, back in 2014. A surprise hit, the movie took the Horror universe into a direction no one saw coming. The story alone was surprisingly effective because of the way Kent conveys the underlying message as each frame passed before the eyes. Five years later she unleashes her newest project, The Nightingale, a Drama/Thriller set for theatrical release though IFC Films on Friday, August 2nd.
Any hardcore movie buff will know certain movies start with a “Wham!-Bam!-See Ya Later, Man!” approach, giving viewers quick, but sloppy introductions. This weak approach usually denotes lazy movie-making. Fortunately, The Nightingale is the latter, taking the slow-boil approach, feeding the audience a 45-minute steaming breakfast-plate of introductions and happenings before unleashing one hell of a scolding hot dinner as the movie depletes in running-time.
When the lights in the theater slowly dim to total darkness, you will be introduced to Irish-born Clare (Aisling Franciosi: The Fall series, Games Of Thrones series), a convict doing time in the British penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land. One night, big, bad British Officer Hawkins (Sam Claflin: Adrift 2018, The Corrupted 2019) decides to pay Clare a visit at her modest, little shack. This visit will change the course of Clare’s life forever, and will also change the course of The Nightingale in the most intelligent movie making ways.
This bits of information disclosed, it is best to leave the rest of the story untold to preserve the initial viewing experience. That in mind, the first quarter of The Nightingale is sure to make you squirm. It will also cause many spouts of surprised shock watching to what peril Clare succumbs before she heads out into the wilderness on horseback with vengeance on her mind. During this journey, Clare enlists the help from Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), who guides her across treacherous terrain as they follow behind in the muddy tracks of British officer Hawkins.
There is no score, and not a tinch of music heard in The Nightingale, dousing the movie already drenched in an ocean of doom-n-gloom. An interesting decision, Kent’s approach allows you to feel every single emotion – whether it be the pain, or the anguish, or the disgust – of the characters without being distracted. The only music is in the singing voice of Clare, and that of Billy; both of whose lyrics are just as important as any of the dialogue.
Overall, Kent is a queen of getting messages across to her audience, and The Nightingale is full of them, ranging from the effects of racism to what emotionally happens when a woman is sexually forced against her will. Additionally, she does something extremely smart with the latter, using different camera angles, and lowly-lit rooms as a way to show any man, or any woman, what might be going through the minds of the victim in these certain unfortunate moment.
Scenes which are undoubtedly ugly but effective, they are the high-voltage powering Clare’s will to live and feeding her anger. Adding to all the emotion, Franciosi and Ganambarr give amazing performances in their roles. In fact, Franciosi’s portrayal of Clare will have you feeling her pain of loss, and the nastiness that had crept into her life. This is while Ganambarr’s Billy will give just the slightest fraction of how real racism was, and is, against those being discriminated.
Furthermore, The Nightingale is not a Horror film, as some may have hoped, but the events occurring are downright horrific. However, Kent does sneak in her charm for Horror when Clare is having nightmares. These particular scenes are some of the scarier than any nightmare scene ever filmed because they perfectly capture the way real-world nightmares would pan out during a rough night’s sleep.
All these factors laid out, the weakest link of The Nightingale is perhaps the second-to-last portion which may leave you feeling a little underwhelmed and wondering if someone in the studio was in a rush to get the movie finished. However, during these quick two minutes you may find yourself on both sides of the fence, but you will agree the remainder of the film comes together beautifully. Thanks to a masterfully written, directed, and acted piece of cinematic art, Cryptic Rock gives The Nightingale 5 out of 5 stars.