Director: Larry Kent
Cast: Sarah Smyth, Shane Twerdun, Missy Cross
Rating: 90 minutes
Running Time: NR
“I’ve been religious my whole life. This isn’t that.”
So says perhaps the only reasonable parishioner in Pastor Jeremiah Baarker’s flock. Baarker (Shane Twerdun) took over stewardship of the fire-and-brimstone parish when his father was sentenced for murdering a doctor at a women’s clinic.
You can assume, then, that Angela (Sarah Smyth) – the last remaining employee of a similar clinic situated in the heart of Baarker’s coal mining town – isn’t in for a good time.
So plays out the blunt instrument that is Canadian indie filmmaker Larry Kent’s latest, SHE WHO MUST BURN.
That’s a great title, by the way.
As direct a piece of social commentary as you’re likely to find, the film wastes no time with dimensionality. These Westboro-esque zealots seek more than control over a woman’s right to choose; they seek control over every aspect of the female body. And as heavy handed as Kent’s film – co-written with Twerdun – becomes, there is a fundamental anxiety at play here that can’t help but be effective.
There are certainly times when the pair’s script leaves something to be desired, and others where narrative choices are just head-scratchers. The film opens with a quote. See if you remember this one: The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish, the tyrannies of evil.
Ezekial 25:17, you’re saying to yourself. Jules Winnfield does not own the market on Ezekial 25:17. Except that he does, because Quentin Tarantino made that biblical verse up. So, is Kent’s homicidal pastor a cinephile and a phony? Or are Kent and Twerdun wildly lazy?
I’m not saying I’ve been religious my whole life, but I am saying that this isn’t that.
There are too many other moments of carelessness, as well: a storm, clumsily tacked-on mentions of dangerous coal mining practices, pieces of information far too conveniently shared. There’s also the frequently weak acting.
But then, there’s the frothing fanatic Rachel Baarker (Missy Cross) and her super-creepy singing (in character and as part of the overall soundtrack). Nice! Kent also scores points with the theme of the sin of the bystander, and a climax that refuses to pull its punch.
Not to mention the unsettling reality that the individual’s control over their own body is a precarious right. Larry Kent will be 80-years-old next year, and SHE WHO MUST BURN is a reminder that he has something to say and little time to waste in saying it. There are no frills here, not a lot of nuance, either, but he has a point to make and, by God, you will not miss it.
SHE WHO MUST BURN is released in the US on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD on October 11.