A Short Review of 'Gwen' (2019, William McGregor)
A deeply suspenseful, historical thriller, steeped in the annals of Folklore and Gothicism.
I almost missed Gwen entirely. It wasn't until I saw the review by critic Mark Kermode that I became aware of it's existence. As I researched into the film I found consistently that it received a number of very praising write ups. So I decided it would definitely be worth given a try and from what I saw of the trailer, further convinced me of that. Having gone to see it, I can say that it met all expectations. It is a film that has successfully melded both Folklore and Gothicism. Creating a hybrid that one cannot help but become invested and engaged in.
I consider Gwen to be a highly suspenseful historical thriller, made more disturbing by its stories realism and historical fact, that is further heavily commented by the dark nature of folklore. The story essentially centers around the idea of rural fear and paranoia, as well as being a commentary on poverty in the 1800's. That saw the exploitation of the working class, committed through elitism, spurred further on by the Industrial Revolution.
The film is truly powerful in its message. I find the power in its message very much on par with that seen in the historical film Peterloo (2018, Mike Leigh); yet it is perfectly matched with the disturbing nature and suspenseful atmosphere of The Witch (2015, Robert Eggers). It in effect feels in the vein of a classic gothic suspense story, while at the same time existing as a deeply haunting folk tale.
The story does not hold a supernatural element, the story is very much engrained within reality, aside from a number of nightmarish dream sequences. However, the atmosphere of the story was so suspenseful that it genuinely felt like the supernatural was present. Constantly throughout the film I felt an ever building sense of dread, which further escalated as the realism of our characters situation escalated. This narrative method kept me truly on my toes, as the story kept subverting my expectations and leaving me with a distinct apprehension, for what would happen next.
I honestly believe it is one of the best examples of well used suspense I have seen in recent years. As well as being suspenseful, the film has a very gritty and visceral aesthetic, seen in both the setting and the highly well utilised usage of gore. This combined with a highly competent cinematography further added to the already tension heavy atmosphere and the highly immersive narrative. When I saw dirt, I felt dirt. When I saw blood, I felt, smelled and even tasted blood. The aesthetic felt so immersive that I truly felt I was there, in a cold and filthy farm in 1800's South Wales.
This is fully supported by the performances of Eleanor Worthington Cox, who plays the title character and Maxine Peake, who very hauntingly plays her emotionally turmoiled mother. Both characters of which are presented with a perfect arc within the story. This further truly helps to connect and finalise all of the narratives elements into a solid conclusion, that is truly as sad, as it is horrifying. The plot is very slow burning but I personally feel this compliments the film perfectly.
As this slow nature has created, a truly haunting, psychological thriller. Further enhanced by a distinct influence of both Gothicism and Folk Horror. Creating a truly unique blend of genres but keeping within the realms of a suspense thriller. I honestly recommend it for any committed lover of the thriller genre. However even if you are not particularly into the genre, I still insist you see it. It is a film that will not disappoint and will further go onto haunt you, for days after seeing it.