Jennifer Kent’s first film since her rapturously received horror The Babadook, The Nightingale bears no resemblance to that haunted house story, instead coming across more as The Revenant 2: Australian Edition. It’s a bold genre shift for Kent, who clearly refuses to rest on her laurels. But although Nightingale has got a lot of quality on display, it’s not always successful, making it hard to recommend.
This is due, fundamentally, to just how nasty it is. The Nightingale follows Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi) in 1820s Tasmania. She’s on a mission of vengeance against the British soldiers who killed her husband and baby while they were in the middle of raping her. This act makes for an unspeakably horrific scene, one of a few protracted rapes and child murders in the film, that eventually crosses the line from emotionally intense to gratuitously upsetting.
Guided by Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali Ganambar), Clare’s crusade couldn’t feel more righteous, and The Nightingale doesn’t shy away from indigenous issues (though also doesn’t cover them as well as the recent Sweet Country). Brutality pervades every moment in this still-being-colonised land, and omnipresent danger creates an effective atmosphere of unease.
Franciosi and Ganambar give good performances, believably transforming from victims to avengers and growing closer to one another with a consistently improving chemistry. Their journey is overlong though, and The Nightingale finds itself repeating a few too many beats.
Kent uses her horror expertise to startling effect during some unnerving dream sequences, but these terrors always seem quaint compared to the real savagery she dishes out to all the women and children in the film.
On top of that, the wilderness itself never feels, well, wild enough to elevate the plot like in its superior genre counterparts. A hard-hitting film, The Nightingale never quite reaches the heights its aiming for.
CAST: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambar, Sam Claflin, Damon Herriman
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Kent
WRITER: Jennifer Kent
SYNOPSIS: Set in 1825, Clare, a young Irish convict woman, chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy, who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.