Opening on a woman covered in blood in the shower, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find sets a high bar for itself in evoking the imagery of Psycho. The overhead tracking shot of a car driving through a winding road into Belfast, coupled with an ominous score, has a distant echo of The Shining. Even if it doesn’t reach those heights, Abner Pastoll’s gripping and taut feature is much less pulpy than the source material of those two touchstones of the horror genre. An efficient script and commanding central performance from Sarah Bolger produce a memorable film with mostly intelligently drawn characters.
Bolger plays Sarah, a woman grieving her murdered husband and raising her two children, one of whom has been rendered mute as a result of the trauma. Tito (Andrew Simpson) — a small time drug-dealer — ends up using her home as a hideaway for an ill-gotten stash, stolen from local gangsters. As the situation snowballs, Sarah sinks into this criminal underworld unwillingly before diving in on the promise of retribution for her husband’s death.
After that woozy set of opening shots, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find begins in the kitchen-sink mode of storytelling. From the outset, however, its tone and aesthetic is rooted in horror and psychological thrillers, with narrative trappings setting a misogynist bass note that will metaphorically score the character interactions. Sarah has a difficult time raising her two children, with an understanding-yet-judgmental mother of her own. She is creepily accosted by a male staff member at the local supermarket, and the police dismiss her ongoing concern about the lack of closure in her husband’s case. In response to her efforts and trying to stay afloat, authorities show little interest or regard for the predicament she finds herself in. Police are unhelpful on more than one occasion in the film, and social services claim to be supportive but Sarah understandably doubts their sincerity.
This backdrop serves as the mounting character motivation for the journey Sarah experiences in the film. From an inciting incident onward (which takes a form that has been used more reductively in other films centred on female revenge), each interaction accumulates with the previous ones to demonstrate the manner in which Sarah has been trodden upon, looked down upon, dismissed and underestimated. Rather than being a rather empty revenge tale, the wonderfully natural dialogue and interactions add some depth to the gruesome and blood-soaked events that follow in A Good Woman Is Hard to Find’s final act.
All of this is backed up by some excellent technical work on the part of Pastoll and his crew. Richard C. Bell’s photography is measured but vibrant; drab at the right moments and more colourfully expressive when required. The finale — although in a nightclub setting, one many directors and cinematographers have had fun with by now — is cathartic as much for the lighting that evokes the neon glows of which Nicolas Winding Refn and his collaborators have been fond. Further, the score from Matthew Pusti builds dread, harmonizing nicely with the camerawork which explodes into panicked hand-held motion when the tone shifts.
The final plot movements, however, rely on an absurdly convenient coincidence with the film’s head villain. In addition, this chief threat is not nearly as subtly drawn as Sarah and Tito, instead presenting like a low-rent but earnestly serious version of Ralph Fiennes’ Harry from In Bruges. However, the narrative arc, augmented by Bolger’s excellent performance, is scripted and presented effectively enough to gloss over this.
A Good Woman Is Hard to Find pokes fun at the title phrase’s subtle misogyny and proves, in this instance, a good woman has been staring us in the face all along.
Jim Ross (@JimGR) is a film critic and film journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the Managing Editor and co-founder of TAKE ONE Magazine, which began as the official review publication of the Cambridge Film Festival and now covers film festivals and independent film worldwide. Jim hosted a fortnightly film radio show on Cambridge 105FM from 2011-2013 and joined the crew of Cinetopia, on Edinburgh community radio EH-FM, in 2019.