For her follow-up to The Babadook (NZIFF14), Aussie auteur Jennifer Kent pivots to an entirely different brand of horror. A bleak, bloody revenge Western, her sophomore effort The Nightingale takes a cold, hard stare at her country’s history of colonial violence – and the results are genuinely chilling.
Set in Tasmania 1825, the story follows immigrant Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a convicted felon whose freedom hinges entirely on the whims of a sadistic British lieutenant (Sam Claflin). After he instigates a sickening act of cruelty, Clare pursues him into the wilderness, hellbent on revenge and aided only by a weary Aboriginal tracker (Baykali Ganambarr), who has more in common with Clare than she might think.
Where The Babadook dealt in unnerving bumps in the night, most of the horrors of The Nightingale are committed in the harsh light of day. This is a stark, unwavering odyssey into Australia’s heart of darkness, in which unspeakable crimes against the marginalised were perpetuated. But beneath the barrage of atrocities is a timely cry for compassion, a recognition that violence against individuals cannot unpick the oppression woven into the very fabric of our civilisation. It contains no easy answers for how to reckon with such evils, but its uncompromising vision is truly difficult to shake. — JF “There’s something tragically resonant… in Kent’s vision of two marginalized characters – one black, the other a woman, both stripped of everything – finding common ground in their parallel trauma and resistance… There [is] no preparing for its awful power.” — A.A Dowd, The AV Club