The 2014 film, The Babadook, made quite a splash when it was released at the tail end of that year. I jumped in with much anticipation during its release, mostly due to hype that was so palpable and strong it likely would have measured on the Richter Scale being that the rumble from the critical consensus was so deafening. I was not impressed. I’m not a fan of baiting and switching or misrepresentation when it comes to my movies and here was a film doing just that. The Babadook started out as an interesting thriller with supernatural overtones only to throw that concept out the window by asking the audience to switch gears from supernatural horror to psychological terrors rooted in the real world. Though technically well made, from a storytelling standpoint it was a classic case of the emperor having no clothes and I was baffled as to why The Babadook made such a splash then and continues to do so to this day. I was not impressed then and my feelings are much the same five years on.
The director of that film, Australian actress, writer and filmmaker, Jennifer Kent, has returned with her follow up film, The Nightingale. There’s been a buzz about the film almost as strong as the one for her previous film. Taking into account the baggage I brought along with me when finally seeing the film I embarked with much trepidation. Much like its predecessor, The Nightingale is indeed a well-crafted film. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it a good film. It’s a derivative thriller that doesn’t bring anything new to the plate that other revenge thrillers centering around a female protagonist haven’t already achieved. If you’ve seen the 1978 film, I Spit on Your Grave, you’ve pretty much seen The Nightingale already. You just didn’t know it yet. At least that film wrapped things up in forty-five minutes less screen time than the unforgivable two hours and seventeen minutes it takes to unfold here.
The setting for The Nightingale is Australia during its colonization in the early 1800s. Clare (Aisling Franciosi) has just been released from prison after a seven-year stint and is eager to get on with her life. Trouble is that her master, the monstrous Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin), won’t let her go. Clare’s husband takes matters into his own hands and it ends in tragedy for all involved. Clare then finds herself hell bent on revenge and developing a friendship with the Aboriginal, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), whom she’s hired to track Hawkins and his cronies on her path to justice.
As previously stated, the biggest problem with The Nightingale is in its derivative feel. You can easily telegraph every plot point well in advance and it doesn’t really offer anything we haven’t seen already and much better. A lot has been made of some of the film’s brutality during its first half. It left me with a feeling of false emotional manipulation much like the rest of the picture.
The Nightingale is currently playing in Durham and coming soon to Charlotte.
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