Jacqueline Gualtieri ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Sofia Coppola’s latest film has difficulty being defined. The Beguiled is not quite a suspense. It lacks tension. It’s not quite a horror, although it is gory. It’s not quite a comedy, although there’s a certain dark comedy to all of it. It’s not quite a drama, though it is dramatic. What it is, though, is perhaps one of the best films of the summer, captivating from the beginning to the heart-stopping end.
The Beguiled is based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan and is a remake of the 1971 film which had Clint Eastwood as its lead. Despite this history, the film feels new. Every twist is bigger than the last, leaving the audience wanting to know what could possibly come next.
Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) finds himself injured and left to the care of an all girls school in the south, run by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). The girls, save for the one who found him injured in the woods, Amy (Oona Laurence), don’t take kindly to having a “Yankee” in their midsts, but they eventually warm up to him. For some of the girls, they warm up a little too much. When he seduces Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a sheltered instructor who longs for more than the walls of Miss Farnsworth’s school, she falls head over heels in love, only to find that he’s not quite as faithful as he lets on to be. She finds herself competing with Miss Farnsworth as well as her student, Alicia (Elle Fanning), for John’s affection until all the competition comes to a head.
Although Kidman is a force to be reckoned with as Miss Farnsworth, she’s frankly outshined by Dunst and Fanning. Edwina and Alicia’s rivalry is a driving force of the film and also where much of the dark comedy comes in. Fanning has an angelic look about her and yet she manages to be convincing as a devil in disguise. She wants to be the most beautiful. She wants to be the most loved. And she’ll do anything to get there. She’s the hateable bad girl and Fanning plays it to a T. While the character could have perhaps been written more complexly, Fanning still took what she was given and created something strangely menacing and hard not to want to watch.
Dunst’s Edwina first appears as the opposite of Alicia and yet her snide remarks and sudden quips show that she’s maybe not as innocent as she’d like to pretend. Dunst goes from being a nearly silent schoolteacher to an unhinged, half-spurned lover in the blink of an eye. When she’s on screen, it’s hard to look away, much in the way that it’s hard to look away from a gruesome accident on the side of the road when driving past. One could only imagine what is going to be seen, the horrors of what will be done, but it’s just so hard to look away. Edwina makes desperate choices and horrendous mistakes, but she remains the story’s hero, in a twisted way. Rooting for her is the only real option.
Much like Edwina, John has his own metamorphosis throughout the film. John starts out grateful towards the women. Before he is exposed for being a manipulator and trying to sleep with all of the women there, the audience is seduced much like all the women of the film are. He’s charming. He’s kind. He’s a hard worker who wants to help the women take care of the house, even on an injured leg. He is swoon-worthy. What he becomes, though, is less than human. He’s not even a villain by the end of the movie. He’s too weak to be able to do the harm he says he’ll inflict. Instead, he’s more like a mad dog. No motive, just vicious. Farrell’s ability to transform and snap so quickly was jarring and added a tension that the movie lacked up to that point.
The Beguiled is more of a dark comedy than a horror movie and yet the cinematography, direction, and setting all create such a strong horror movie feel. When the women sit around the dinner table in one of the final scenes, there’s little action, but it’s so powerfully ominous. Everything is dark. Everything is evil. It almost appears like a ghost story, a design similar to The Conjuring, but the only things haunting the house are the women.
The Beguiled is a beautiful, sinister masterpiece. Although it is far more character-driven than plot-driven, every twist creates the need to keep watching, the need to know what comes next. From beginning to end, it’s jaw-dropping and heart-breaking, with actors that make you fall in love just as easily as they make you feel sick. Coppola has created a film like nothing else this season.
Overall Grade: A-
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