She Who Must Burn (2015)
Starring Sarah Smyth, Shane Twerdun, Missy Cross
Directed by Larry Kent
Zombies, demons, paranormal entities… none of the previously mentioned even give me so much as a chill up my spine anymore. There is only one group of people that can illicit such fright and feelings of uneasiness from me, and that is the religious zealot. You know the type: dressed like they just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting, reciting lines from the Bible that literally no one else could dig out of their memory – those sheepish smiles and “God Bless Yous” every time they make eye contact – it’s some of the scariest stuff I’ve ever witnessed, and I grew up Catholic in a household where my mother believed everything was “his will.”
That’s why when I pressed “play” on Larry Kent’s latest, She Who Must Burn, I’ll admit it was time for the bedsheet to be prepped for optimal shielding of the eyes… yes, I’m 41 years old by the way.
Whatever causes these people to become so overwhelmed with God’s word that it melts their minds is beyond me – I don’t know and I don’t wish to, but it makes for some frightening filmmaking. Kent takes to the screen to show the story of Angela (Smyth), who works as a counselor for Planned Parenthood and lives (unmarried, mind you) with Mac (Andrew Moxham), the local deputy sheriff. While the film is set in a small, sleepy mining town, the problems on the horizon are anything but small, and those problems come in the holier-than-thou order of Pastor Jeremiah Baarker (Twerdun), and his two nuttier than a squirrel turd followers, Rebecca (Cross) and her dimwitted husband, Caleb (Andrew Dunbar).
Now let me be blatantly clear about one thing here, in my lifetime of watching and reviewing these cinematic treats, there haven’t been too many characters that made me want to run and hide, but this threesome EXCELLED in every facet of their portrayals. While Jeremiah simply gives you the evil grin, masked inside a Jesus-lovin holy man, Rebecca is suffering from a stillborn delivery, and she’s completely gone off the reservation with grief: talking in tongues and having visions from God about what must be done with sinners, all the while Caleb stands in the back, waiting for direction from anyone who will aid him – MIND-NUMBINGLY TERRIFYING.
The hook here is that Angela has taken Jeremiah’s wife into her home because the good pastor believes that it’s man’s right to procreate, conceive, and generally whoop the piss out of the one you’re married to, and when he gets wind of where his beloved battered bride is, he sends in the cavalry to roust her from her shelter. As the film progresses, we see both a mental and physical battle between those who just wish to live their lives and those who feel it is a higher power that should dictate how it’s done. A psychological tug-of-war ensues when some of the followers of the holy word don’t agree with the actions being taken, and the local police force seems to turn a blind eye as to not offend the leaders of the church – it’s an exercise in mirroring some the situations that are commonplace in these Bible Belt towns, and to think that this is a regular dose of their lives is just chilling.
Visually enticing, the small town is captured in lots of subdued colors, and the imminent threat of a destructive weather event on the horizon adds to the feeling of gloom and doom. Performance-wise, there just isn’t a weak spot among the bunch – every character is intriguing, and the actors employed to fill those spots should be commended for offering up loads of raw emotion and gritty effectiveness. Plainly put, this IS in fact a horror film, mainly due to the implication of what’s out there, and whether or not these fanatics give you goosebumps the way I get them, She Who Must Burn is a film that absolutely shouldn’t be missed – one of my top choices of 2015 by a long shot.