Review: ‘She Will,’ starring Alice Krige, Kota Eberhardt, Rupert Everett and Malcolm McDowell

August 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Alice Krige and Kota Eberhardt in “She Will” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“She Will”

Directed by Charlotte Colbert

Culture Representation: Taking place in Scotland, the horror film “She Will” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged actress, who’s been famous since she was a child, goes to a retreat in rural Scotland, where she is haunted by memories of a traumatic past, and she decides to do something about it. 

Culture Audience: “She Will” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies that have a lot of distracting imagery and useless scenes to cover up for a one-note, very thin concept.

Malcolm McDowell in “She Will” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

The horror movie “She Will” is a female revenge tale that’s heavy on atmospheric images but lacks substance in storytelling and character development. Too much of the movie is dull and meandering, with no surprises. “She Will” (which has a very man-hating tone to it) essentially goes down a predictable movie path of a woman getting revenge for being abused. It’s disappointing that the movie doesn’t bring depth to any of the characters.

“She Will” is the feature-film directorial debut of Charlotte Colbert, who co-wrote the “She Will” screenplay with Kitty Percy. The movie shows that Colbert certainly has a talent for setting up creepy visuals in an emotionally dark horror movie. But these striking visuals ultimately don’t add up to much when the people in the story are just two-dimensional personalities.

The movie makes a half-hearted attempt to have social commentary about age discrimination and sexual misconduct in the movie industry. However, this commentary is overshadowed by “She Will” turning into a turgid revenge flick. And the movie’s constant misandry becomes very lazy, tiresome and misguided because it tries to equate feminism with having negative perceptions of men. True feminism isn’t about thinking that men should be disliked and feared because they’re men. True feminism is about believing in gender equality.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that “She Will” bungles its feminist messaging by going overboard in the man-hating aspects of the movie. Every single man with a significant speaking role in “She Will” is either a misogynistic creep, someone who is condescending to women, or someone who enables misogyny. “She Will” takes the easiest and most predictable route in how the female protagonist deals with these conflicts, even if her decisions are dressed up in horror gimmickry that’s trying desperately to be artsy.

In “She Will,” the central character is a British actress in her 60s named Veronica Ghent (played by Alice Krige), who is deeply insecure about being perceived as an old, unattractive has-been. The movie opens with a montage of showing women getting plastic surgery and putting on makeup. Veronica says in a voiceover: “It’s become a ritual, putting the layers on. Every mask has a function: the eyes, the cheeks, the lips.”

The movie has multiple scenes where Veronica looks in a mirror and seems repulsed or disappointed by what she sees of herself. It’s implied that Veronica is obsessed with her outward physical appearance, especially her face. Years in the movie industry have conditioned her into the sexist belief that female entertainers, more than male entertainers, are expected to look as youthful as possible, in order to be hired for work.

Veronica has been an actress since she was a child. At 13 years old, Veronica became famous when her 1969 movie “Navaho Frontier” became a big hit. “Navaho Frontier” is probably still Veronica’s main claim to fame, because when people talk about her career, “Navaho Frontier” is the movie that is inevitably mentioned. After all these years, Veronica’s fame from “Navaho Frontier” has overshadowed her other work, so she has bitter feelings about being thought of as an actress who peaked before she was an adult.

In recent years, Veronica has become a pill-popping, cranky recluse who’s probably an alcoholic, based on her frequent consumption of alcoholic drinks. Her only companion is her personal assistant Desi Hatoum (played by Kota Eberhardt), a loyal, tolerant and practical-minded employee in her 20s. Veronica’s attitude toward Desi is often cold and haughty. But over time, Veronica sees things about Desi that remind Veronica of when Veronica was young. Not much is known about Desi until later in the story when she opens up a little about her childhood.

The beginning of “She Will” shows how Veronica is rude and dismissive to Desi. It’s also revealed that Veronica is a survivor of breast cancer who has had a double mastectomy and wears prosthetic breasts. When Desi places the removable prosthetic breasts in the bra that Veronica is wearing, Desi says to her employer: “It’s too soon for you to be wearing prosthetics.”

Veronica angrily snaps back, “What do you know?” Veronica adds that she’s had a “mastectomy, not a lobotomy.” Later, Veronica tells Desi, “What I need from you are bandages and the occasional bath.” When Veronica is awake, she overindulges in taking the painkiller Tramadol, which Veronica sarcastically calls “breakfast of movie stars.” When Veronica is asleep, she has nightmares, because let’s not forget that “She Will” is supposed to be a horror movie.

Veronica decides that what she needs is to go on a retreat. This upscale retreat takes place at a mansion in an unnamed, rural part of Scotland in a (horror movie cliché) remote, wooded area. Veronica (accompanied by Desi) is there for what Veronica thinks will be a quiet getaway where she won’t have to interact with any of the other guests at the retreat. Veronica very irritated when she finds out that it’s the type of retreat where the guests are supposed to participate in several group activities.

The retreat only has about five or six guests (all of them are unmemorable), but that’s still too many other people for Veronica, who doesn’t want anything to do with these other guests. She’s miffed when she’s told that the solo retreat that she thought she signed up for is only offered during the summer. Most of the guests immediately recognize Veronica and surround her like star-struck fans. Veronica quickly lets it be known she doesn’t want that type of attention while she’s at this retreat.

Veronica immediately wants to leave with Desi, but they can’t leave, because the roads are flooded due to a recent storm. And because this is a horror movie in a remote, wooded area, it should come as no surprise when Desi finds out that she can’t get a signal on her phone. It’s just the movie’s way of making sure that Veronica are Desi are stuck at this place for most of the story.

The leader of the retreat is an eccentric named Tirador (played by Rupert Everett), who spouts a lot of spiritual guru gibberish, but his qualifications for being a “guru” are very vague and murky. Tirador calls himself a “teacher.” Tirador thinks of himself as an innovative and highly intelligent leader, so he conducts himself with more than a hint of arrogance.

Tirador gets into an unspoken power struggle with grumpy Veronica, who wants to do her own thing at the retreat, but Tirador won’t let her. Tirador’s way of dealing with Veronica is to make her feel like an out-of-touch old woman if she doesn’t go along with what he has planned. He uses mind games and his perceived authority to get Veronica to do what he wants.

Later, Tirador urinates on a tree in front of the retreat guests. He says with a laugh at this indecent exposure, which is a form of sexual harassment because he exposed his genitals without consent: “It’s important to leave your mark on the land.” (The movie doesn’t show any nudity from Tirador, but this nudity is implied.) Tirador, like all of the male characters with prominent roles in “She Will,” is a very obvious symbol of sexist patriarchy. This movie has no subtlety at all.

During her time at the retreat, Veronica continues to have nightmares. She also sleepwalks and finds herself waking up outdoors for reasons that she can’t remember. “She Will” has a recurring image of a sticky substance that resembles black mud, which keeps showing up in places where Veronica happens to be. Tirador mentions at one point that Earth (as in Mother Earth) is supposed to have healing powers affected by witches that were burned at the stake. (Again, no subtlety at all.)

Later, Tirador leads the group in an art class that takes place outdoors, where the retreat guests are doing illustrations with charcoal. Veronica predictably draws a sketch representing her nightmares. And then the mysterious mud shows up again. And again and again and again, until the mud (which just looks messy, not scary) fails to have a shocking impact in what’s supposed to be a horror movie.

Veronica gets a little closer to emotionally bonding with Desi when she asks Desi one day: “Would you go back and relive your childhood?” Desi replies, “Not even if you paid me.” Veronica confides in Desi: “I’m having dark thoughts.” Desi says, “That’s normal. Everyone has them.” Veronica adds, “I mean, really dark thoughts.”

Desi’s mental health issues are eventually revealed in the movie. “She Will” has a subplot about Desi meeting a local guy named Owen (played by Jack Greenlees) at a pub in the nearest town. Desi is at this pub because she wants a break from constantly being around dreary Veronica at this retreat. Desi and Owen have an immediate flirtation. But because “She Will” is a horror movie, don’t expect things to go smoothly in this possible romance.

It’s eventually revealed that Veronica has gone to this retreat because she wants to hide out from the media and other people. That’s because of the recent news that “Navaho Frontier” director Eric Hathbourne (played by Malcolm McDowell) is about to be knighted. Eric has also been in the news because he wants to remake “Navaho Frontier,” and he’s been conducting an extensive search to find a teenage actress for the starring role that Veronica originally had.

There’s a scene in “She Will” where Veronica sees Eric being interviewed on a TV talk show that’s hosted by a well-known TV personality named Podrick Lochran (played by Jonathan Aris). Podrick asks Eric if he’s ever done anything illegal, in reference to stories that Eric had an illegal sexual relationship with underage Veronica when making “Navaho Frontier.” Eric replies defensively, “It was a different era. We were very close. We had a special bond.” (In other words, Eric doesn’t deny that he had a sexual relationship with underage Veronica.)

And you know what that means in a female revenge horror movie made during the #MeToo era. “She Will” overloads on nightmarish visions that are supposed to blur the lines between Veronica’s fantasies and realities. And yes, there are stereotypical scenes where Veronica’s inner child—specifically, Veronica as a 13-year-old (played by Layla Burns)—appears as a haunting figure. After a while, it becomes tedious when the first two-thirds of the movie are essentially this back-and-forth slog of nightmares, Veronica’s moodiness and the mud appearances, with not much to move the story along.

And although Krige gives an admirable performance as Veronica (all the other cast members give average performances), take away all the flashy and eye-catching imagery, and “She Will” doesn’t have much of an intriguing story. Desi is very underdeveloped as a character and only seems to be in the movie for a “female solidarity” plot development in “She Will.” As a horror movie, “She Will” ultimately fails at being suspenseful once it becomes obvious who will be the target of revenge and why.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “She Will” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Gretel & Hansel,’ starring Sophia Lillis, Sammy Leakey and Alice Krige

January 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sophia Lillis in "Gretel & Hansel"
Sophia Lillis in “Gretel & Hansel” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/Orion Pictures)

“Gretel & Hansel”

Directed by Osgood “Oz” Perkins

Culture Representation: The predominantly white cast of characters live in a fictional fantasy world from the ancient past, mostly depicting the working class and poor members of that society.

Culture Clash: Two underage runaway siblings find themselves staying at the house of an evil witch, who doesn’t want them to leave.

Culture Audience: “Gretel & Hansel” will appeal mostly to horror fans or people who like to see movie adaptations of classic fairly tales, but this movie’s uninspiring and weak story will surely disappoint most viewers.

Alice Krige in “Gretel & Hansel” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/Orion Pictures)

Just like a witch’s spell that makes something rotten appear to be enticing, “Gretel & Hansel” is a horror movie that looks visually thrilling, but it’s really an ugly mess. The movie is a reimagining of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” (published in 1812 in Germany), but the movie’s ludicrous plot twists have very little resemblance to the original story. (The movie’s log line is “A Grim Fairy Tale,” a cheeky nod to the origin story.)

The core concept of “Hansel and Gretel” is still in the movie—a homeless young brother and sister try to survive by themselves in the woods when they are enticed into a house owned by a cannibalistic witch. But in this botched attempt to make “Gretel & Hansel” a dark feminist tale, director Osgood “Oz” Perkins and screenwriter Rob Hayes have put too much emphasis on style over substance, and they’ve sacrificed story development for gory scares that come too little, too late in the film. The hypnotic cinematography from Galo Olivares is the best thing about this dreadfully dull movie.

There are so many things wrong with “Gretel & Hansel” that the movie should be used as an example of what not to do in adapting a classic fairly tale into a movie. Sophia Lillis, who plays a teenage Gretel, is usually very talented—for now, she’s best known for being the token girl in the “It” movies—but she’s unfortunately miscast in this movie. Lillis definitely comes across as too modern for the role—and having a pixie haircut doesn’t make her a convincing Gretel—because she keeps her American accent and contemporary teenage mannerisms in a film that’s supposed to take place in a time long before the United States ever existed.

Meanwhile, Sammy Leakey who plays Greta’s brother Hansel (who’s about 7 to 9 years old) has a British accent, and the old, evil witch Holda (played by Alice Krige) has an accent that sounds like a mixture of Irish and Krige’s native South African. This hodgepodge of international accents is very distracting and ultimately a detriment to this movie that’s supposed to convey a very insular world.

It’s not as if all the characters should have had a German accent or even the same accent for the entire cast. It’s just lazy filmmaking for the movie’s two siblings, who grew up together, to have accents from two different countries. Lillis seems like a good-enough actress to at least try to have a British accent to match the Hansel character in the movie. As for Leakey’s acting skills, let’s just say that “Gretel & Hansel” was a very lucky break for him indeed.

“Gretel & Hansel” does not have a kindly father, who plays a crucial role in the original fairy tale. Instead, the siblings’ uncaring mother (whose has a British accent) is single and impoverished, and willing to prostitute Gretel out to a sleazy old man, who pretends to want to hire Gretel as a maid. After he makes it clear what his intentions are when he asks Gretel if she’s still “intact” (in other words, if she’s still a virgin), Gretel runs away and tells her mother, who scolds her for not doing what the man wanted for money. (That sexual-harassment subplot is definitely not in the original fairy tale.) Her mother resents Gretel for taking up space and threatens to send her to a convent. Gretel refuses to go because it would mean that she would be separated from Hansel.

Gretel then decides to runs away with Hansel, and they end up sleeping in what they think is an empty castle. But the castle owner (another creepy old man) shocks them out of their sleep and chases after them with murderous intent. He’s killed by a mystical character called The Hunter (played by Charles Babalola), a bow-and-arrow-slinging nomad, who kindly takes in Gretel and Hansel by giving them food and a temporary place to stay.

Gretel has been taught by her mother that people who show generosity will expect something in return, so Gretel is surprised when The Hunter doesn’t expect the siblings to repay his kindness. Instead, he advises Gretel and Hansel to offer their work services to the townspeople. He suggests that Hansel become a forester by developing tree-chopping skills, and Gretel could do traditional women’s work of harvesting and preparing food. The movie wants us to believe that Gretel is a smart and empowered feminist in the making (her interactions with Hansel are basically her telling him what to do and him questioning her), but her later actions in the story make you question her intelligence and leadership skills.

There are also a few quirks in “Gretel & Hansel” that don’t really fit with the foreboding atmosphere that is supposed to be portrayed. One of these quirks is the oddball way that characters in the movie make pig-snorting sounds as a sign of affection. Hansel and Gretel do this with each other, and then later the witch Holda does it too, as a way of trying to bond with the kids. It’s a weird component to the film that seems like a misguided attempt at humor.

Another thing that takes you out of the movie is when Holda drops a glass, which breaks on the floor, and she somewhat chuckles and utters something like, “Oh, well. Another one bites the dust.” Although the rock band Queen might be amused that this ancient witch namechecked a phrase their hit song made famous in pop culture, it’s an example of how awkward the writing is for this movie.

Another out-of-left-field moment happens when, after Gretel and Hansel leave The Hunter and before they see the witch’s house, the two siblings are wandering around while starving in the woods, and they eat mushrooms that turn out to be psychedelic. For about five minutes of the movie, people have to sit through a scene of two children having a drug trip. It’s played for laughs, and it’s an unnecessary scene that throws the apprehensive tone of the film a little off-balance.

Before they get to the witch’s house, Gretel sees some shadowy figures that look like witches in the distance. And a flashback backstory is shown about a girl from the past who was demonized by the townspeople for her magical powers, which include killing a cow just by staring at it. By the time Hansel and Gretel get to the witch’s house, you want some real horror to happen. Just like in the original fairy tale, a starving Hansel and Gretel go into the house when they see a lavish meal prepared on the table.

The witch who lives there startles them and keeps them there by offering them a place to stay and sumptuous meals every day. Gretel is automatically suspicious because she doesn’t see how the food is prepared and where it’s coming from—there’s plenty of meat and milk, but no cows or other animals on the property—but she stays because the food is too tempting and she doesn’t know where else to go. Meanwhile, Gretel keeps having visions of being in a room with a young witch (who looks less like an ancient witch and more like a Goth who just came from a Marilyn Manson concert) in a room where there’s a bloody tablecloth—and you can guess what’s underneath.

But “Gretel & Hansel” commits the worst sin of all for a horror movie: There are long stretches where nothing much happens except the protagonists (in this case, Hansel and Gretel) looking anxious or confused. Gretel has nightmares that are made to look like the events are happening in real time, but then you find out it was only a dream when she’s startled out of her sleep. This gimmick might be acceptable one time in a movie, but when it keeps happening in this type of horror flick, viewers’ patience will start to wear thin.

As the evil witch Holda, actress Krige oozes hellish decay and malevolence, even when Holda tries to appear maternal and protective. And truth be told, Holda is the one who has the most personality in the whole movie. Unfortunately, Gretel in this film is written as a monotonous shell of a person who thinks she’s smart, but she keeps making dumb decisions. (Hansel can’t be blamed for much because he’s too young to know better.)

The cinematography and production design for the movie are interesting, in that the witch’s house isn’t a complete stereotype of being musty and filled with spiderwebs. Most of the house’s interior is dark, but clean and bathed in a dark golden glow. There’s also a room that is entirely in white, to contrast with some very disturbing and bloody things that happen in that room. And Holda’s and other witches’ fingertips look like they were dipped in black paint, which is an aesthetic that isn’t really seen in movies with witch characters.

But all of those eye-catching motifs don’t mean much when the story and characters are nonsensical and tedious. For example, Gretel finds out at some point in the story that she has a specific power, which she doesn’t use until it’s almost too late. There’s no point in trying to make sense of this movie, because it doesn’t have a story or character worth caring about or remembering long after you’ve seen it.

Orion Pictures will release “Gretel & Hansel” in U.S. cinemas on January 31, 2020.

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