Written and directed by Martin Koolhoven, “Brimstone” was showcased as part of the Official Competition Section at the BFI London Film Festival 2016, at the London Embankment Garden Cinema. This section particularly focused on inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking.
Starring Guy Pearce, Dakota Fanning and Carice van Houten, the film presented itself as a Western–but one with an unusual twist. Pearce is chillingly macabre as The Reverand; his performance radiates towards the other cast members, so much so that you can almost feel the tension and fear that Liz (Fanning) feels from his presence.
By definition, “Brimstone” suggests ‘a damnation to hell.’ For midwife Liz, a young mother is pursued by evil across the 19th-century American frontier.
Martin Koolhoven’s dark thriller, with striking cinematic elements and scenery courtesy of cinematographer Rogier Stoffers, follows Liz on a seemingly endless journey to protect herself and the children in her charge from the unstoppable Reverend.
Liz, who is mute, lives an idyllic country life on a farm with her kind-hearted husband and children, but the fairytale seems to be too good to be true. One Sunday, the mysterious new reverend gives his inaugural sermon, and Liz fills with terror, feeling her past has come back to haunt her and there will be grave consequences.
Following the service, a local woman goes into labor on the church floor. Through no fault of Liz’s, the birth goes tragically wrong. The woman’s husband seeks revenge, and The Reverend comes to the rescue of Liz and her family — though he warns that punishment will soon be her inevitable fate. The next day, the family’s sheep are found slaughtered, Liz is sequestered, and her daughter is kidnapped. Thus begins a biblical sequence of events involving blood, fire, and an epic years-long odyssey which spans states and territories, and we see flashbacks of Liz’s life so that we can understand fully the horror which she wishes to escape from forever.
Establishing the stakes early on, and with the combination of striking backdrop scenery, Koolhoven’s film is full of tension and fear. Fanning’s performance strikes all the right chords; and the audience empathizes with her character’s devotion to protect those she loves, while Pearce is chilling and macabre as an unrelenting force. Despite their opposition, both Liz and The Reverend seek redemption…
Film Slate Magazine’s Jasmina Nevada was in London for the screening and had the chance to talk with filmmaker Martin Koolhoven during the red carpet ceremonies beforehand.
Jasmina Nevada: How did this project come about?
Martin Koolhoven: I wrote it, I have always been a fan of Westerns, and after my last project I was encouraged by Hollywood to look into another movie. I wanted to write a film, but did not know exactly if I would be able to… Would I write something contemporary? I felt however I should write something I know about. I thought about Westerns, and at some point everyone wants to make a film about Westerns, but I was quite intimidated by that as there are so many good Westerns. So looking into myself, being raised Protestant in Holland and this also being common in the U.S. it was mutual ground on which to write a movie. So I decided to write from a female perspective as most Westerns tend to be romantic or macho.
JN: Do you think the end result has met your expectations?
MK: I am very happy and proud of it, but if course it has to be proven in cinemas.
JN: What difficulties did you face between writing and getting the film to screen?
MK: It’s always difficult; it took me three and a half years to write it. Most scripts take that long. It was a tough, multi-layered story. With many different time areas and dark. On the other hand, I felt good writing it.
JN: What’s next for you?
MK: I am thinking about it. There are three stories I circle around and read up on, I am getting offers but undecided as to the next move as yet…