A gritty performance by Maxine Peake and richly bleak photography by Adam Etherington are more than enough to recommend folk horror Gwen
Director William McGregor’s feature debut captures the spirit of the age with this Victorian-era folk horror. Maxine Peake proves her mettle as the ultra-hard Elen. Her older daughter, Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox), with her windswept hair, fiery temper and mixture of frustration and longing, may suggest a Brontë-esque heroine, but Elen is the film’s truly fearsome creation.
Clad in a thick woollen cloak befitting Macbeth’s witches as much as Cathy Earnshaw, Elen's wolfish features are cut seemingly from the rocky hills themselves. Her undiagnosed epileptic fits and medieval habit for bloodletting suggest the monstrous feminine, while an unseen menace is brutally killing the community’s livestock.
The real star, however, is Adam Etherington’s richly bleak cinematography. Putting his experience shooting Poldark to good use, Etherington’s oak-coloured shadows, grey skies and black nights invoke the Folk-Gothic spirit that underpins McGregor’s socio-political satire. Indeed, the true monster of the piece is not Gwen’s fierce mother, but a masculinised notion of progress blithely pillaging the land she inhabits.
Gwen screens at EIFF 23 & 25 Jun – tickets here; released in the UK 19 Jul by Bulldog Film Distribution
The Skinny is proud to partner EIFF's Agnès Varda retrospective The Features of Agnès – details of the season here
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