While initially thought to be vanity, Veronica Ghent’s (Alice Krige) cold cruelty towards her nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt) and stubborn defiance about her recovery from a double mastectomy is ultimately revealed as survival. She’s an aging film star who’s worked, since 13, during an era ruled by egomaniacal and abusive men. She’s endured what it means to be a successful woman in the public eye, so she’s ready for when the tabloids write about her surgery and looks while questioning her star viability. Thus, recovery isn’t just about the physical side. It’s very much psychological too. Veronica will deal with the pain of prosthetic breasts despite Desi’s warnings to combat the media scrutiny. She’ll also book a remote Scottish retreat to try eluding the circus of celebrity.
“Best laid plans” work their magic as far as not quite living up to expectations, but director Charlotte Colbert and co-writer Kitty Percy haven’t created She Will to drag their character through a grueling gauntlet. On the contrary, they’ve provided her means to rise from the ashes of an existence marred by the malicious persecution of men. Don’t be afraid to laugh upon meeting the eclectic bunch preparing themselves for a week of group activities. Where Veronica had hoped to avoid human contact, the boorishly over-the-top Tirador (Rupert Everett) and his merry band of aristocratic opportunists descend upon her with entitlement and excitement. It’s an absurd environment set up to ensure she cannot escape this place’s properties. They serve as the rumor mill contextually explaining Veronica’s nightmares.
Because of this, things are a little shaky at first. We can glean a reductive idea of what’s happening once Veronica sees fires in the woods, women running, women tarred and tied to trees, and the visage of renowned director Hathbourne (Malcolm McDowell), but it’s not until Tirador and the others smugly relay the area’s legends and history that we fully comprehend what’s occurring with predatory mud and astral projections. Women were burned here as “witches,” to the point residents believe their ashes still reside in the soil. When charcoal burns and smokes into the sky to make it seem like it’s snowing black, they call it “witch feathers.” What looks like demonic possession at night may in fact be supernatural empowerment—the dead supplying strength.
This revelation only augments the aesthetic mood cultivated by Clint Mansell’s score and Colbert’s surreal montages of imagery borne from the memories of Veronica and her presumed champions beyond the veil. It supplies its sensory experience with purpose and agency until Veronica can wield the power she has been given (or has awakened from within). Because while the public and the industry has turned on her due to the passage of time, both have conversely lauded Hathbourne. Where she maybe wouldn’t have minded before, however, their names have once again been connected by his announcement of a sequel to their first collaboration so many decades ago—one whose reputation as being exploitative has only grown from rumors of an affair when she was a minor.
Here she is thrown away. There he is applauded for being a provocateur with zero regard for the damage wielding that title has wrought. To therefore find herself rising off her bed at night to wander the Scotland marsh and suddenly, inexplicably stand opposite Hathbourne at a late-night TV interview shifts from being a scenario of fear to one of opportunity. This land and the souls it protects are lifting Veronica onto their shoulders, imbuing her with the ability to fight back and wreak her revenge. Maybe it’s all in her mind. Maybe it’s not. Either way, the act itself is rejuvenating. It’s pushing through her trauma to reclaim the agency that was taken in her youth by Hathbourne and society.
Colbert and Percy have a firm grip on this main plot from start to finish. As Veronica becomes more comfortable with her changing identity removed from external pressures, she becomes calmer, more focused, and, regarding Desi, more empathetic. Why? Because she’s dissolving the grip of the patriarchy. By no longer falling prey to what the male gaze demands of her, Veronica no longer has to put down younger women deemed to be her competition rather than her equals. She now wants to empower Desi, complimenting her singing and looks when she had only denigrated her as a rule. And once she stops being that extension of her own oppression she can become a champion for others as well as herself. Surviving isn’t enough anymore. Now she must prevail.
As a story that concerns the unconscious, whether through dreams or acts of non-corporeal entities, don’t expect Colbert to spoon-feed you everything going on. I say this both about the plot and the messaging; a lot of what she places onscreen in She Will may first feel disjointed, perhaps disorienting. Tirador’s clan and the two groundskeepers (Olwen Fouéré and Amy Manson) often seem forgotten, yet their inclusion makes an impact nonetheless—especially the latter as mysterious figures who seem keenly aware of the potential for what this place can do to both Veronica and Desi. I’ve seen many people claim McDowell is underutilized as well, but we don’t need anything else from him. He and Jack Greenlees are here solely to be destroyed.
This is about overcoming the constraints dictating a woman’s existence in a man’s world, how some women help facilitate those hindrances at their own detriment. And by conquering that invisible prison, these women can fight back when society is too entrenched to threaten the status quo. Why not wield the lost souls of those victims who were dismissed and tortured as the weapons used to turn that tide? The reason the wind here sounds like whispers is because those who were murdered sense the shame and anger within Veronica and Desi. They seek to give each the chance they weren’t afforded, igniting new life and purpose. Both Krige and Eberhardt deliver subtly quiet performances within this atmospherically fragmented pursuit of vengeance, ultimately transforming into agents of change.
She Will hits limited release and VOD on July 15.