The Nightingale is Jennifer Kent’s filmmaking follow-up to her cult hit The Babadook. Continuing her career in discovering horror threaded within suppressed memories, Kent weaves a period drama about redemption after trauma.
After a heart-wrenching evening of brutal assaults and murders against her family by members of the British army, Irish convict Clare Carroll (Game of Thrones’ Aisling Franciosi) abandons her broken life as an army servant to take her vengeance towards those who destroyed her future. She makes an escape through the thick wilderness, shadowing her attackers as they embark on an impromptu mission to Launceston, Tasmania. She begrudgingly confides in Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an impoverished Aboriginal tracker who also begrudgingly agrees to work with Clare despite her tyranny towards his culture. The film cuts back-and-forth between Clare’s pursuit and the vicious travelling troops led by the cruel Lieutenant Hawkins (Me Before You’s Sam Claflin).
The Nightingale is made up of several stories of oppression; varying from sudden, maniacal authoritarian decisions to long-running histories of prejudice and racism. Writer/director Jennifer Kent uses patience and research to fully flesh out her characters over the course of the film’s lengthy duration. It takes lots of courage for Kent to find humanity in The Nightingale’s most vicious roles. That said, by no means do we sympathize with Clare’s attackers, but Kent offers an understanding to these savages that make them fully rounded villains. The same thoughtful characterization is applied to the slow burning relationship between Clare and Billy. They both come from different walks of life and are quick to order each other around, yet they find relatable common ground through their pain. The Nightingale is tough to endure at times, especially when the 4:3 aspect ratio narrows your view to the central action, but it’s ultimately a rewarding watch because of the exceptional performances and the filmmaker’s talents.
Viewers who were fans of Kent’s freaky breakout The Babadook will admire the haunting visuals she provides during Clare’s nightmares, but what they’ll appreciate more is how the filmmaker has branched out to different types of horror with this extraordinary sophomore effort.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie