The horrors of British colonialism in Tasmania circa early 19 Century is on full, hard-to-stomach display in the new film from the maker of The Babadook.
Jennifer Kent brings a frightening sense of inhumanity almost from the outset in The Nightingale which stars Aisling Franciosi (crooning from servitude initially) and Sam Claflin with graphic violence depicted in the early section which ultimately continues to needlessly assail viewers.
But, the gifted writer/director explores a Black War with a certain surreal, naturalistic flair. Some may be reminded of segments of True Grit or The Revenant in a more ravaging take on justice with testiness and danger awaiting.
Franciosi (known for her work on HBO’s epic Game of Thrones) invests much into young adult Irish prisoner Clare, as her anguish, trauma, and vindictiveness is deeply felt. Trying to finally exit the austere repository isn’t going to happier at the behest of Claflin’s unbearably cruel Lt. Hawkins. And, when all that matters to her is expunged, Clare returns to consciousness in a hellish fury.
The wicked wilderness is no picnic, so having an Aboriginal guide, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), dealt many blows from Imperialism, may be beneficial for Clare. Even though her emotions with a pronounced bias doesn’t help what is often too rocky for its own good. This relationship does become a necessary glue in a sweeping envelopment ( with the extreme callous activity and tension reined sharply in the limited aspect ratio).
Maybe Kent doesn’t do the same in terms of how the narrative unfolds in ambiguous, if less satisfying fashion through a seemingly unrelenting course of depravity. If a seething finally wanes, a glimmer of hope might exist in such an unpleasant penal colony.
Witnessing The Nightingale may be the equivalent of cinematic torture through the barbarism run amok Down Under. If the command of the material isn’t quite as masterful as in Ms. Kent’s debut connecting psychological horror to motherhood it’s hard not to be braced by a fierce Franciosi and an effective, even witty new comer in (former dancer) Ganambarr.