10/15/2019

Gwen (Review)

Title: Gwen
Writer/ Director: William McGregor
Cast: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Mark Lewis Jones, Richard Harrington, Maxine Peake
Min: 84
Year: 2018

Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) is a worry filled teenager who inhabits a farm in 19th century Snowdonia at the height of the industrial revolution. She lives with her little sis Mari (Jodie Innes) and their hardened and cold mother Elen (Maxine Peake). The young girls are awaiting the return of their dad, who has gone away a long time ago to fight in a war. To say shit ain't going well for the family is an understatement. Their hardships include an ever increasingly serious problems like spoiled potatoes, mutilated sheep, her mom's illness which soon develops into epileptic seizures, and more. On top of this, the local slate mine barons want to buy their land, as their ever expanding business sees the family's land as prime territory. They, though, don't want to give up their farm and land.
Gwen is a historical, Welsh horror film. This quiet bit of genre film-making from writer/ director William McGregor is a good looking and a slow burn. Quiet, in both a literal and figurative manner, but scary in a real life way, this one will please those who enjoy their scares in a more refined and arthouse like manner. It is far more interested in real life horrors than the supernatural, which is, at most, only hinted at. This serves as one of the reasons its scares work so well.

McGregor keeps the movie beautiful looking throughout, as well as having somber feeling of melancholy. The film keeps an air of mystery throughout, sometimes not giving a complete answer if  one, at all. One of the aspects most worthy of admiration for Gwen, is its use of sound. Instead of using a score, it relies on its excellent sound design. This adds tension and unease in some of the movie's most chilling moments.
The movie achieves at least one truly frightening moment with a genuinely well achieved jump scare. This has the rare pay off that actually made this jaded horror viewer jump right the fuck up. The climax zaps full blown intensity and excitement into the proceedings. Meanwhile, the ending is extremely dark and depressing.

The pacing is very slow and some might find themselves bored. But, have patients and the payoff will be well worth. The moment that Elen has her first epileptic seizure was so jarring and shocking that it made me stand right up in attention to what was happening,
The acting is the other key point here. The whole cast is excellent with extra praise going to both Maxine Peake as the domineering mother and  Eleanor Worthington-Cox as the title character. Peake is intimidating in her role. There are hints of her love for her daughters, but many times it is buried under her callousness. Worthington-Cox gives us powerful acting as Gwen. We truly feel for her, as she sometimes tells of the hard life she is dealing with only but a heartbreaking look in her eyes and face. And, speaking of heartbreaking there is one moment that tore mine to shreds. You will know when you see it, as this scene is followed by a moment of violence, that while little is shown, truly got under and inside of me.

Gwen is a slow burn of a quiet horror movie. More interested in historical and real world terror than some crappy CGI ghost, it really does achieve a nice level of creepiness. The movie always looks good and has some of the finest sound design I've seen this year, on top of excellent acting. To me, this flick is superior to the overrated and pretentious The Witch, a movie with which it shares obvious similarities. It might be very slow, but if you give in you'll find much to admire in this deeply somber chiller. It begins streaming this Thursday, October 17, 2019 on Shudder.


3 out of 4

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