Having just had its World Premiere at Fantasia 2015, Larry Kent’s She Who Must Burn is a twisted low-budget offering that shines a fiery light on social flaws, taking religious fanaticism to its most extreme. The story follows Angela, a health counsellor who runs a planned-parenthood clinic out of her home. When she refuses to leave her clinic after being shut down by the state, a family of fanatical evangelists vow to make her pay.
At 78-years-old, Kent brings a wonderful skill and poise behind the camera, focusing only on the parts of the story that drive his narrative forward quickly and with precision. The man has been making films since the early ’60s—starting with his debut The Bitter Ash—so it’s no wonder he manages to craft such a tightly wound slow-burn in effortless fashion after all these years.
She Who Must Burn is quite the topical feature from Kent, with its strong stance on religion and abortion, it’s not at all surprising that his film left the audience at Fantasia 2015 floored. The film opens with a literal bang, giving us our first nod at its no-bounds approach to such a controversial subject. We then meet Angela, whose good intentions become the unfortunate fixation of a handful of religious psychos, causing her world to descend into paranoia and madness.
Kent has no intentions of dancing around the subject of his film, either, as he surrounds Angela’s home with angry protestors calling her a baby murderer; yeah, it’s not the feel-good movie of the year, that’s for sure. He strikes a cord immediately and creates tension off of it as the film creeps and crawls its way towards the final act. As a massive, killer storm approaches, She Who Must Burn is bound in a cheerless atmosphere as black clouds approach from a distance. It’s the film’s way of saying, “This shit is only going to get worse, so buckle up.” I really enjoyed that sort of impending doom type of approach because it added an unsettling layer to the narrative.
Again, Kent really knows what he’s doing here, and what I was surprised by the most is the haunting imagery he spreads throughout the movie. It’s not over abundant or anything, but there are a few chilling shots in the film that will have your skin crawling right off your bones. And even though the film has some pacing issues—it does drag here and there—the occasionally disturbing visuals are enough to keep you grounded to the film.
And while it certainly does a lot right, I think it has a hard time getting us engaged with the characters we’re supposed to care about. Since the movie is surrounded by evil people doing evil things, it really needed that contrast of a good person who is everything they aren’t. That person was supposed to be Angela but her character just kind of gets lost in the story, only showing up here and there as a convenience. It ultimately takes away from the kind of impact that I think the film was aiming for, which is a damn shame because its final act was so very close to taking this one to the next level.
She Who Must Burn is very much an under-the-radar kind of film, but I think it’s one that’s going to surprise a lot of people when they get their hands on it. Kent is a proven mad man behind the camera who wants us to squirm every inch of the way, and he pretty much nails it in that regard.
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