The Nightingale

Jordan Peele did a hysterical movie about a cat (Keanu), but then decided to go a completely different direction and make horror films (Us, Get Out).

Jennifer Kent got a lot of attention for her horror film The Babadook, and then decided to go a completely different direction; although her sophomore effort is a different kind of horror. It shows the atrocities experienced by women and Aborigines living under the tyranny of colonialism in the early 1800s in Australia.

The story is set at a penal camp in Tasmania where Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) oversees some Irish prisoners. Clare (Aisling Franciosi) has to serve booze to the troops and sing, as well as endure being raped by him. We get the impression her crime was rather minor, and she’s already served her time, but has been kept three months longer. She’s married to another prisoner (Michael Sheasby), and they have a baby daughter.

When the husband notices she’s been beaten, he confronts Hawkins in a drunken rage. That doesn’t go well, and I’ll spare you the details of what happens. Yet my wife and I found it to be among the worst things ever seen on screen. Now, I had read that many audiences have walked out because of the brutality this film shows, and it’s the only screening link I’ve been sent where I was also sent a warning about the violence depicted. Not only is it disturbing, but it felt gratuitous and exploitative. We end up seeing five rape scenes, as well as countless acts of assault, racism, and murder. At one point during the movie I asked my wife, “How would any of this be entertaining to anyone?”

The film ends up becoming a revenge saga. Now, in the western Hostiles (Christian Bale), after Rosamund Pike has something horrific happen to her, the film is still enjoyable to watch. In this movie, it’s all…one-note psychopaths we’re witnessing. It all feels undeveloped, as if it were a first draft. Two hours and 15 minutes of repetitive violence isn’t my cup of tea. 

Anyway, for Clare to get her revenge, she employs an Aboriginal guide named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr). He helps her track the military men that were given a dangerous post a few days north of where they are. He hates all white people (they killed his family), but she’s paying him.

Since she’s Irish, she has a beef with the British. And, both of them (sort of) bond over how they are treated/enslaved, and their traumas. 

Those two are excellent in the movie, and Sam Claflin would’ve been an interesting performance, if he wasn’t such an over-the-top villain. All he does is rape and drink. And occasionally shoot people (even kids), that say the wrong thing.

There’s a lot to admire on a technical scale. Cinematographer Radek Ladczuk (The Babadook) makes it stunning visually in its naturalism. This is also a part of Australian history (The Black War) that I knew nothing about. 

The problem with this movie is its self-indulgent, artful pretensions. It’s shock value in what we see on screen. The rape scenes go on for so long. Now, the long rape scene in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo worked. These five rape scenes (did I mention there were five?)…is overkill.

It adds nothing to this story. It’s just abhorrent to watch.

This is a tough film to take, and I don’t know a single person I’d recommend it to.

2 stars out of 5.

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