(director/writer: Joe Marcantonio; screenwriter: Jason McColgan/novel by Octavia Butler; cinematographer: Carlos Catalán; editor: Fiona DeSouza; music: Jack Halama/Natalie Holt; cast: Chloe Pirrie (Jane), Fiona Shaw, (Margaret), Jack Lowden (Thomas), Tamara Lawrance ( Charlotte), Edward Holcroft (Ben), Anton Lesser (Dr. Richards), Kiran Sonia Sawar (Linsey), Natalia Kostrzewa (Betty); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Dominic Norris /Jack Lowden; IFC Midnight; 2020-UK)
“Vexing maternal psychodrama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An eerie but lesser similar film to “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Get Out ” is this vexing maternal psychodrama by the unproven short film director Joe Marcantonio, in his feature film debut. It’s co-written by the director and Jason McColgan, who based the film on the novel by Octavia Butler. I’m informed the writers took their own path, failing to follow the book’s. The film is set in the Scottish countryside.
Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) is the loving Black girlfriend to Scottish veterinarian Ben (Edward Holcroft). The couple visit in the country his meddlesome widow mother Margaret (Fiona Shaw), the family’s matriarch, someone deeply concerned with family traditions and protecting her family heritage. When the couple tell her of their plan to move to Australia (mainly to get away from her), she becomes upset and they part with bad feelings.
After the visit, the no-nonsense family doctor, Dr. Richards (Anton Lesser), informs the surprised contraceptive pill taking Charlotte that she’s pregnant. Charlotte is a reluctant mother, since her mom battled prenatal mental problems and post-par-tum depression and she fears the same for herself. Tragedy hits when Ben is fatally injured by a horse he’s treating kicks him in the head. For no apparent reason Margaret blames Charlotte for his death.
Margaret wants Charlotte to live with her and with Thomas (Jack Lowden), the adult stepson of her second husband and Ben’s younger stepbrother, in the ornate but rundown family mansion. Charlotte wants to remain in the cottage (adjacent to Margaret’s estate) she shared with Ben, but Margaret informs her the bank has foreclosed on the place. Charlotte thereby reluctantly moves in with the bossy Margaret, who is concerned only about the welfare of Ben’s child.
The mother-in-law and the scary family doctor take charge of caring for the baby, as Charlotte becomes like a prisoner to the caretakers and is treated kindly only by the genteel Thomas. The stepson’s part in this imprisonment is never clear, so we’re never certain if he’s a bad or good guy, but he seems to have a genuine concern for Charlotte. The viewer must figure out for themselves why Charlotte is treated so poorly, as the obvious racial reason is never made clear even if suspected.
The bleak film gets played out as a hostage scenario of a damsel in distress. Why Charlotte is not accepted by the creepy possessive mother-in-law goes unanswered, as the pregnant woman is drugged at the mansion and walks around groggy. Her character is never developed, and her dreams of crows doesn’t quite explain what the story is getting at. Its murky imprisonment scenario has many flaws, as the narrative fails to flow easily without raising questions of plausibility. We’re left guessing if the fearful and traumatized captive will ever get free.
REVIEWED ON 11/13/2020 GRADE: C +