Brimstone gave me far more than I expected. Billed as a Western and a thriller, I wasn’t prepared for the gradual unravelling of horror. Nor was I prepared when those horrors kept coming, quietly, without announcement or expectation. I was certainly not prepared for being almost unable to watch the ending, swearing that if one more person died, I was done with it. Not because I could have easily given up on this film, but because it hurt way too much.
Brimstone is told in four chapters, from the viewpoint of Liz (masterfully portrayed by Dakota Fanning), and they’re not offered to you in chronological order. In fact, they’re offered in a way that makes every revelation that much more horrific and shocking. You need to feel your way through it a little, and, as a viewer, you are required to do a little work figuring things out, but if you like a movie that gets you thinking, this one is a stunner.
Liz’s life has been far from straightforward, and as her story unfolds, you find that she’s spent the whole of it trying to get away from one man; a reverand (Guy Pearce) with an axe to grind, and he’s determined to grind it against both her and everyone she loves. We all know about villains that keep coming back, but this is something else. A seemingly inescapable foe who will never stop coming for her.
Genius in its construction, and relentless in its emotional torment, Brimstone is not a popcorn movie. It’s not a casual film night with your friends. It’s bleak and brutal, and you’ll grip onto every slither of happiness or triumph like your life depended on it. Running at 2.5 hours, it’s a trial by fire. Don’t be at all ashamed if you need to take a break to recover partway through.
I’d love to tell you that the ending was happy. I’d love to tell you that it was satisfying. But neither can I say that it was altogether bleak or unsatisfying either. It offered up a bit of everything stitched together. But it will leave you hopeful. And it felt somehow right. It completed Liz’s story neatly.
This isn’t a film that’s going to leave me in a hurry, and I wouldn’t want it to either. Once I’ve recovered enough, I’ll face it again. But I’m not ready yet. This film is stunning and absorbing, as long as you have the emotional grit to withstand it.
Dir: Martin Koolhoven
Scr: Martin Koolhoven
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Carice Van Houten, Kit Harington
Prd: Jean-Baptiste Babin
Music: Junkie XL
Run time: 148 minutes
UK DVD and Blu-ray release 19 February 2018