Director Charlotte Colbert sets a lofty goal with her debut feature She Will, which she also co-wrote with fellow newcomer Kitty Percy. The woozy, beautifully shot film tackles the pressures women face in the public eye, the #MeToo movement, witchcraft and society’s consistent punishment of women across centuries. The fact that not all of She Will hangs together is a failure of ambition, rather than skill. Likewise, the addition of a ”presented by Dario Argento” credit and score by horror icons Goblin hinders rather than helps Colbert establish herself as a distinctive voice in her own right (though it’s understandable why she was excited to have both onboard). One gets the distinct impression that Colbert will have just as much to say with her sophomore feature, but she will hopefully also figure out how to communicate those ideas in a manner that feels more considered, and less rushed, in the meantime.
The sublime Alice Krige leads the charge in She Will as Veronica, an aging and glamorous film star who is introduced during an opening surgery sequence. Colbert deliberately plays with the audience’s assumptions about what women typically do by waiting to reveal that Veronica has actually undergone a double mastectomy, rather than a cosmetic procedure. In one of She Will’s most tender moments, Krige’s character sits on a bed, sadly contemplating a lace bra she’ll never need again. There are several instances like this, when it’s made abundantly clear this is a woman telling a woman’s story. Male-helmed films tend to lean into exploitation as a misguided way of expressing their empathy. Sometimes it works, but more often than not it’s jarring, taking female viewers out of a story supposedly aimed at us. In She Will, a sexual assault is dealt with sensitively, the camera hanging back and the clothes staying on.
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The treatment of Veronica and her caregiver, Desi (a luminous Kota Eberhardt), reminds viewers of who’s behind the camera, too. When Krige’s character first appears, she travels by train to an isolated and imposing country manse in the Scottish Highlands, where she can recuperate following her surgery. When Veronica arrives, however, she’s greeted by Rupert Everett’s blustering character — the English actor naturally manifests when the tone and setting are this ripe — and a whole bunch of other eccentric types, many of whom immediately recognize her. Veronica isn’t exactly feeling social, and the new age-y rubbish they’re peddling rubs her the wrong way. After decamping to her own cottage, Veronica sets about relaxing into her new surroundings. But the woods around the house begin calling to her, enticing Veronica to face up to past abuse at the hands of an oily co-star (played to perfection by Malcolm McDowell) and, crucially, to enact revenge against this horrid man.
She Will has shades of the terrific Saint Maud in its central relationship between a caregiver and her unruly patient. That’s probably not the kindest comparison since Rose Glass’ critically acclaimed 2019 movie, also her feature debut, is ruthless in its specificity. She Will, on the other hand, is shaggier, and almost feels unfinished despite wrapping up neatly. There are plenty of memorable sequences to enjoy, featuring genuinely stunning vistas, while the shot of a car disappearing into the black of the forest and later re-emerging is wonderfully evocative. The other retreaters’ performances are grand, to match the house itself, their new age proclamations clashing agreeably against the folksy weirdness elsewhere. A recurring shot of a bloodied woman wearing some kind of medieval torture device is horrifically memorable, particularly considering that She Will is essentially the story of a woman finding her voice through supernatural means — Veronica may take aim at one man in particular, but she’s getting payback for hundreds of years of mistreatment.
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Krige and Eberhardt are equally strong in their respective She Will roles. The character Desi highlights the thankless job of a caregiver without her coming across like a saint, while Krige paints Veronica with shades of grey, suggesting a life-long inner turmoil. She’s brittle without being cold, a delicate balance. In one striking moment, the camera zooms in on Krige’s face as the corners of her mouth curl into a smile. It’s considerably more subtle than the annoyingly repetitive imagery and headache-inducing Goblin score, which is completely unnecessary and robs many scenes of their otherwise spooky atmosphere. Likewise, the voiceover — which occurs at the beginning and end of the film — feels clunky and like overkill, almost as though Colbert didn’t have the full courage of her convictions and felt the audience wouldn’t grasp what her film was trying to say without it. She Will is at its best when allowed to be intriguingly weird and even borderline arch. The interactions between Krige and McDowell, for instance, are charged with dangerous energy, but the nature of the story means the actors are kept apart for much of the movie, which is a real shame. However, astral projection would be galling if the tone wasn’t perfectly pitched, so it’s impressive that it feels like a natural progression in She Will. Further, when a man is sucked into peat like quicksand, it also makes complete sense.
There are elements to She Will that mark Colbert out as a fascinating new voice in horror, from hints of a budding queer romance between Veronica and Desi to the use of real footage from McDowell’s early career, and even the way Veronica’s hair loosens up as she does the same. Clearly, a lot of care and attention went into telling this story. Colbert’s debut is provocative, thought-provoking and beguiling, but if it dug a little deeper, or was more focused, maybe the movie wouldn’t feel so unsatisfying. Regardless, She Will is an impressive introduction to Colbert as a filmmaker, not to mention a great showcase for what Krige can do with a leading role.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.