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New Escapist Column! On Jennifer Kent’s “The Nightingale” and the Frontier as a Prison…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This week, we’re trying something a little outside the usual remit of the column, with a huge thanks to editor Nick Calandra for encouraging it.

Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale remains one of the most harrowing and uncomfortable films that I ever seen. It’s brutal and horrifying, but in a way that is very deliberate and very pointed. Kent is effectively playing off the tropes and conventions of the western, but playing with the way in which these stories are told. Kent imagines the frontier not as the embodiment of freedom or potential, but instead as a prison in which all of its characters are trapped.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: The Nightingale

The Nightingale arrives as Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to The Babadook, and represents a slightly different sort of horror.

The Babadook was one of the best horror films of the decade, a creeping and unsettling look at a mother’s depression as she tried to work through her complicated feelings towards her own son. The Nightingale is something quite different, essentially a frontier western about a woman who sets out to avenge herself upon the British soldiers who inflicted a terrible suffering upon her and her family. As Clare tracks these men through the wilderness with an aboriginal guide named Billy, she finds herself confronted with the true nightmares of colonial Australia.

Eyes frontier.

The Nightingale belongs to a rich tradition of Australian westerns including modern classics like The Proposal, stories that play on the frontier myth and explore the country’s deeply troubled and unsettled history. Kent’s direction is tense and claustrophobic, refusing to ever let the audience look away from the horrors inflicted upon the continent by the European settlers who presumed to claim it as their own. The Nightingale is a bleak and cynical piece of film, one that is occasionally suffocating and dizzying in its portrayal of man’s capacity for inhumanity.

However, perhaps the most striking aspect of The Nightingale is how – for all its unflinching brutality and refusal to offer trite sentimentality – the film advances an argument for intersectionalism. As Clare journeys deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness, she discovers that the suffering inflicted upon her and her family is just one expression of a more primal and insidious violence, and that perhaps she has more in common with Billy than she might originally think.

Not so hot to trot.

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