To get to the heart of what makes Brimstone a terrible film, one has to look at the tone. On the surface this 19th century-set tale is bleak, as it charts the life of the mute Liz (Dakota Fanning). Miscarriage, rape, mutilation, and incest are the order of the day and there are plenty more horrors left. There’s nothing wrong with a film that’s pure darkness, but with Brimstone such a mood feels off.
This can largely be laid at the feet of Guy Pearce’s satanic Reverend character. His look and performance are so cartoonish that it’s impossible to take him seriously. His attempts at being menacing elicit laughs rather than shivers.
Another issue with the cruelty on display is its misogynistic flavour. Writer-director Martin Koolhoven clearly wanted to make a feminist film with Liz as a strong female character. However, the violence against women is so unrelenting that it’s quickly normalised, while the way such actions are shot fetishize the cruelty.
Kit Harington turns up late in the film to briefly offer some form of levity as an injured bandit, but it’s about as useful as a sprig of coriander on a bowl of dog food.
All of these problems with Brimstone could have been mitigated if it wasn’t such a long slog at two-and-a-half hours. This exacerbates the problem with the aforementioned violence. Plus, the runtime makes Pearce’s performance even more irritating. It’s impossible to compliment Fanning’s acting because her costar is a black hole of suck that swallows anything surrounding it.
Brimstone sucks. There’s nothing good about it, from the acting to the writing. And what’s bad is made worse by the long runtime. The tonal mess pervades the entire film and so anything that might have been interesting is unsalvageable.
CAST: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Kit Harington, Carice van Houten
DIRECTOR: Martin Koolhoven
WRITER: Martin Koolhoven
SYNOPSIS: In 19th-century America, a young mute woman is pursued by a demonic Reverend.