Writer-director Jennifer Kent follows up her creepy debut The Babadook with brutal historical-revenge drama The Nightingale
Opening in 19th century Tasmania, Jennifer Kent's follow-up to The Babadook concerns an Irish convict, Clare (rising star Franciosi), who finds herself trapped in inescapable servitude to a hateful British officer, Hawkins (Claflin). When her husband Aidan (Sheasby) begs for their freedom, Hawkins punishes him by raping Clare and having their baby dashed against a brick wall, before finally having Aidan shot. It’s a punishing, gruelling scene, designed to shock – and it does.
Left for dead, Clare awakens to find Hawkins has fled, and so she sets out to enact her revenge. The film explores masculinity at its most toxic, while simultaneously tackling the cruelties of colonialism, providing a female perspective on a genre typically told from a male point of view.
Kent is a skilful director, crafting a film as beautiful as it is horrifying. She’s willing to manipulate the tropes of the genre for her own purposes, and never entirely gives in to audience expectations. In the end, we don’t walk away wholly satisfied; instead, we are forced to confront the horrors of the past that reflect our present.
Released 29 Nov by Vertigo; certificate 18