Brimstone is a thinly veiled feminist parable that’s really an overlong, tedious, sadomasochistic western drama because of a relentlessly dour script that revels in violence with numbing fixation.
Wrongly accused of a crime she didn’t commit, a frontier woman (Dakota Fanning) turned fugitive is hunted by a vengeful preacher (Guy Pearce) in the menacing inferno of the old American West.
Natalie Portman attempted to deliver a female led western drama in Jane Got a Gun but production troubles took its toll on the movie. Brimstone attempts to tell a similar tale – the opening credits speak with a voice from a yet to be named character foretelling the story of a fighter.
The movie begins with an intriguing premise. The production design sets the story in a period accurate backdrop of the 19th century western frontier when men’s main trade where mining gold while women’s most popular occupation is a sex worker. Panoramic cinematography captures the beautiful wide open spaces as well as deliver stark visuals to set the bleak tone of the movie.
The opening act alone already sets expectations – a mysterious man simply named Reverend makes an ominous sermon about pain, punishment, and hell while a mute woman named Liz trembles in church.
The talented cast of characters pull you in with great performances, notably Guy Pearce as the bible thumping sadistic preacher and Dakota Fanning as the hapless woman trying to escape his cruelty.
Just by those descriptions alone, you may already have a sense of where the story is going. And unfortunately, as pretty and promising as this movie may seem, it gets worse for both the viewers and its characters. Brimstone’s feminist slant is just a thin veil over a sadomasochistic western horror movie that amounts to nothing.
Told in chapters that could rival the nihilistic fest in Game of Thrones (Kit Harrington and Carice Van Houten make an appearance), the movie immerses into a variety of violence including rape, murder, domestic abuse, child prostitution, body mutilation, and old fashion whipping.
The gruesome – at times contrived and illogical – scenes eventually become tedious and wear you down. Liz never catches a break that just as a sliver of hope appears it is quickly replaced by something awful. Even when she manages to find a man who treats her like a human being, his son is there always ready to scorn her borrowed existence. She’s merely swept in the plain cruelty of her time in one chapter to another while the body count piles on around her. Also, she’s being hounded by a villain of pure evil with supernatural abilities of stealth.
After more than an hour of this blood and gore spectacle, you’re given an unsatisfying too little too late pay off. Brimstone wants to tell you that incest is evil and hell is a place on earth but delivers atrocious acts with numbing fixation that its message is lost.
Brimstone is ambitious but its heavy-handed approach overshadows whatever redeeming qualities it has, resulting into a movie that’s a test of endurance rather than a tale of survival. It’s marketed as a feminist movie, but in reality its just misery porn revolving around a woman.
My Rating: 4/10