This is the English language debut from Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska, and I didn’t understand it. Not because of any language issues, it was the narrative. This film is strong on visuals and lovely imagery, but lacks a solid story. This is a cult story, which has been done better in so many other films, including two terrific films by Brit Marling (The East, The Sound Of My Voice). There was one from two San Diegan filmmakers a few years ago — The Endless — that I loved. And there was a film last year, Them That Follow, about a preacher that uses rattlesnakes (which was okay). This is the type of stuff Terrence Malick does that critics all drool over, claiming it’s “art” when it’s really just a series of stunning visuals.
So I’ll give cinematographer Michael Englert credit for shooting this gorgeous picture, but I’ll knock Szumowska for the blandness and goofball symbolism. I mean, I can only take so many visions of dead animals and trees.
Selah (Raffey Cassidy), belongs to an all-woman cult called the Flock. It’s led by The Shepherd (Michiel Huisman), who is the somewhat charismatic, Messianic figure. He looks like a cross between Jesus and Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes). He has multiple wives and daughters (my wife asked early on what happens to the boys that are born; maybe they told us in the last half hour, but we didn’t make it that far in this movie).
This takes place in the mountains (it was shot in Ireland), and the group raises sheep. Sometimes sheep blood is used during ceremonies in which the Shepherd smears their faces as they scream out their loyalty to him. It reminded me of the disappointing (but much better) movie Midsommar. At least when the women in that started shrieking, it was less irritating and had more rational reasons.
The wives and daughters wear different color robes, and when the daughters first get their period, the Shepherd ain’t too happy. To him, this is a curse. There’s a woman that lives as an outcast, who tries to warn Selah of what’s to come. The Shepherd also appears to have daughters that eventually become wives.
The film needed more character development, and we’ve seen this type of story before. This take on it is all a bit pretentious and tedious. Luckily for us, the screener link we were seeing stopped working an hour into the film, so we didn’t have to sit through the last 37 minutes of it.
When we’re all locked inside our houses because of this pandemic, watching a bunch of women trapped by a cult leader…probably isn’t what you’ll want to see for entertainment. If it is, maybe go binge watch The Handmaid’s Tale or see one of the movies I mentioned at the beginning of this review.
This gets 1 star out of 5.