Film Review: Brimstone


Martin Koolhoven’s film is unrelenting and unforgiving. Brimstone can be difficult to watch, but it enthrals nevertheless.

Liz provides a midwifery service, along with her young daughter, for the women in her village. When a new preacher arrives in town, Liz immediately fears that she and her family are in danger…

Brutish and bruising, Brimstone is a thriller that does not know when to quit. But make no mistake, this is a good thing. Writer-director Martin Koolhaven has created a opera of suffering, vengeance and retribution that takes no prisoners. The film is not for the faint-hearted.

Divided into four parts, Brimstone tells the story of a young woman, and the preacher that plagues her. The film is told in a non-linear format, with later chapters filling in the gaps in the story. The first part leaves viewers with a lot of questions. Koolhaven keeps his viewers hooked.

The narrative engages throughout. The film maintains an air of mystery for a significant portion of the duration. The later chapters give more context to the events of the first chapter. Whilst the air of mystery may dissipate by the final chapter, viewers will be rooting for the protagonist in the game of cat and mouse. There is a good deal of tension present in the film’s climax.

Koolhaven teases the audience with moments of false hope throughout the film. Liz has much to overcome, and elicits sympathy and admiration. Brimstone’s protagonist is thoughtfully depicted as a strong female. As the title suggests, the film has overt biblical overtones. The character of the preacher epitomises the hypocrisy of patriarchal, organised religion. Above this, he functions almost as the devil; there are some supernatural undertones to proceedings. Dakota Fanning gives a very impressive performance as Liz. Guy Pearce brings a frightening menace to his role.

Atmospherics in the film are potent, thanks to excellent art direction and sound design. Brimstone is a gripping thriller.

Brimstone is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.