The folks from Westboro Baptist Church were in my hometown this very day and they were never far from my mind as I watched Larry Kent's jarring yet brimming with reality She Who Must Burn, a horror/thriller that picked up the prize for Best Feature Film during its 2015 world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival along with winning the same prize at Blood in the Snow and Scariest Film, Best Villain and Best Supporting Actress at the Fright Night Festival.
To call She Who Must Burn a disturbing film may very well be an understatement. Set in the very real world tension that exists between those who support women's healthcare rights and the conservative evangelicals for whom there are unquestionable limitations in those rights, She Who Must Burn takes an already tension-filled story and amps it up for pretty much all of its 90-minute running time.
The film has been picked up by indie distributor Midnight Releasing for an October 11th release on Digital HD, Cable VOD and DVD. It's the kind of film that once you watch it you'll find yourself wanting to watch it again. You'll also be looking up the name of Larry Kent, a veteran indie filmmaker with a reputation for uncompromising boldness.
She Who Must Burn centers around Angela (Sarah Smyth, Cedar Cove, 50/50) a smalltown nurse at a Planned Parenthood clinic in a town ruled by members of a small but mighty evangelical church who don't take kindly to their kind of services. After the clinic is shut down following the murder of the clinic's only doctor, Angela feels it's her duty to keep services available and starts operating a clinic out of her home.
Let's just say things go a little crazy.
Shane Twerdun, the film's co-writer, is a haunting and unshakeable presence as Jeremiah, the church's pastor whose placid appearance masks a grave turbulence within.
He may be the calmest one of the bunch.
As things escalate, Jeremiah has increasing difficulty reining in his followers including his sister, Rebecca (Missy Cross), and her husband, Caleb (Andrew Dunbar). Jeremiah's wife, Margaret (Jewel Staite), is trying to escape it all but leaving is going to be much harder than she'd ever imagined.
The town's sheriff (Jim Francis) is pretty much useless leaving Angela with only the support of her boyfriend, the town's deputy sheriff (Andrew Moxham). Will that be enough?
She Who Must Burn is more thrilling than horrifying, the violence itself likely to not satisfy those looking for anything resembling ultra-gore, though this doesn't mean that Kent compromises in the film's emotionally and physically graphic scenes. Indeed, he doesn't compromise at all.
At the top of it all, Sarah Smyth gives an unforgettable and jarring and layered performance as Angela, whose commitment to staying put may be one of the worst decisions she's ever made. Jewel Staite is similarly unforgettable as Margaret, tasked with playing a woman whose life is enveloped within this "church" yet also a woman whose physical and psychological damage is obvious and painful to watch. As the sister who in many ways appears to dominate the entire group, Missy Cross is most disturbing because of the frightening normalcy she brings to her role at least until its waning moments.
The film's original music from Chris Alexander is sort of a gospel-tinged halloween collection and the film perfectly and hauntingly utilizes hymns in a way that will stay with you long after the closing credits have rolled.
She Who Must Burn, while not a perfect film, is certainly an unforgettable film. With a tremendous ensemble cast and a confident and assured director at the helm, She Who Must Burn is practically a must see film for anyone who prefers the more thoughtful and meaningful side of the horror/thriller realm.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic