The most effective and frightening horror films are those based in reality, whether it’s actual events or what could easily happen. Larry Kent’s SHE WHO MUST BURN taps into actual events and then takes it to the next level, a level that’s entirely possible. When we hear the term religious fanatic it’s now a jihadist who comes to mind, but fundamental Christians have been killing and harassing doctors and staff at women’s health clinics as well as their families for decades. Kent taps into this history and the results are chilling.
Angela (Sarah Smyth LOST BOYS: THE TRIBE) is a nurse who worked at a Planned Parenthood clinic that has been shut down by the local government. She chooses to stay and do what she can on her own to help the local women from the house she shares with her boyfriend Mac (Andrew Moxham BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE) a local deputy. This brings the wrath of Jeremiah Baarker (Shane Twerdun BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE) and his congregation on her. Baaker is a fantatic like his father, who in the film’s opening minutes is seen killing two doctors in cold blood. When Jeremiah’s wife Margaret (Jewel Staite SERENITY) takes one beating too many and flees with Angela’s help, his already fragile grip on sanity slips and he vows to bring her back and those that helped her be punished.
The script sets the conflict up during the film’s beginning, giving us enough back story about the Baaker clan and their congregation that they’re actual charters not just generic villains. Things like Rebecca’s (Missy Cross WHITE RAVEN) miscarriage, and her inability to accept it could happen except as the work of a witch, rather than the chemicals of the local mine that is polluting the groundwater. We get a sense of what is going on in their heads and why, which actually makes them more chilling.
There isn’t a lot of violence in the film, but what there is is very brutal without resorting to over the top gore. Indeed some of it is harder to watch than anything in an “extreme” film like ATROZ simply because it’s tied to an involving story and people you’ve taken an interest in. There are some excellent performances, especially co-writer Shane Twerdun who makes Jeremiah one of the most chilling villains of the year. Cold, icy and utterly convinced the Lord is on his side, whether forcing himself on his wife or calling for Angela to be burnt at the stake.
The ending will be controversial among viewers. While I can understand why Kent ended it the way he did it left me feeling cheated and unsatisfied. Maybe it’s because the film is based in reality and so plausible that the ending had that effect. I also know others will find it a perfect ending. However there’s no denying it carries a lot of impact whatever you do think of it.