“The Beguiled” Is Beautifully Haunting
A remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Don Siegel, The Beguiled is an often understated yet eerie piece of Southern Gothic brilliantly orchestrated by director Sofia Coppola. Its old school feel mixed with its tremendous acting ensemble makes this a thrilling film-watching experience that is meditative at first but ultimately pays off towards the end.
The Beguiled is set in an all-girls school in Virginia during the Civil War. The women in the school: teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), students Alicia (Elle Fanning), Jane (Angourie Rice), Amy (Oona Laurence), Emily (Emma Howard), and Marie (Addison Riecke), and headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), find their tranquility disrupted by the arrival of a wounded soldier named Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell). As the women reluctantly take him under their wing and help him heal from his wounds, sexual tensions and fierce rivalries begin to erupt.
For starters, The Beguiled boasts the best acting ensemble of the year thus far. Everybody brings in their A-game and manages to deliver their own complex characterizations. As headmistress Martha, Nicole Kidman brings naturalistic maternal instinct mixed with quiet enigma that can be showcased through something as simple as a slight eyebrow movement. Elle Fanning brings headstrong sexual maturity as Alicia while Colin Farrell demonstrates sly yet frustrated charm as the alluring John McBurney. Young child actors Oona Laurence (Southpaw) and Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys) are impressive as well in their small roles.
As great as everybody is, though, the MVP is Kirsten Dunst as Edwina. Through her physical gestures as well as verbal dialogue, Dunst is able to capture the three-dimensionality of a woman who’s fiercely in control of both her repressed sexual feelings and her belief of wanting to be encased in her isolated sanctuary yet she still slowly reveals the need to release her hidden longing for something more than the mundanity of her daily life.
The cinematography by Philippe Le Sourd is also a major highlight. He helps capture the eerie atmosphere by engulfing the picture in near darkness even when the film takes place in broad daylight. A stark contrast to director Sofia Coppola’s debut film The Virgin Suicides which is shot as if it is like a dream as opposed to the nightmarish feel of The Beguiled.
The way Coppola structures The Beguiled is as if it is a 70’s horror film. There is little focus on a musical score even if the score by band Phoenix is brilliantly done. Plus, there is mostly build up to the big horror that takes place towards the end as opposed to there being horror lurking in every single turn throughout. Something that can, ironically, be a hindrance to making a good horror film. The horror here lies in the isolated setting along with the dramatic tension amongst these characters that finally culminates.
Even though is it about 93 minutes long, there are times where it feels a bit longer. But because I found The Beguiled to be such an enthralling experience, I didn’t mind one second. I found it to an innovative piece of Southern Gothic that features exemplary acting mixed with throwback atmospheric filmmaking.