Natalie Portman attempted to deliver a female-led western drama in Jane Got a Gun but production troubles took its toll on the movie. Brimstone attempts to tell a similar tale – the opening credits speak with a voice from a yet to be named character foretelling the story of a fighter.
The movie begins with an intriguing premise. The production design sets the story in a period-accurate backdrop of the 19th-century western frontier when men’s main trade where mining gold while women’s most popular occupation is a sex worker. Panoramic cinematography captures the beautiful wide-open spaces as well as deliver stark visuals to set the bleak tone of the movie.
The opening act alone already sets expectations – a mysterious man simply named Reverend makes an ominous sermon about pain, punishment, and hell while a mute woman named Liz trembles in church.
The talented cast of characters pulls you in with great performances, notably Guy Pearce as the bible thumping sadistic preacher and Dakota Fanning as the hapless woman trying to escape his cruelty.
Just by those descriptions alone, you may already have a sense of where the story is going. And unfortunately, as pretty and promising as this movie may seem, it gets worse for both the viewers and its characters. Brimstone’s feminist slant is just a thin veil over a sadomasochistic western horror movie that amounts to nothing.
Told in chapters that could rival the nihilistic fest in Game of Thrones (Kit Harrington and Carice Van Houten make an appearance), the movie subjects the women in the film through a variety of abuse including incest, rape, domestic violence, mutilation, and child prostitution. Children are not spared.
The contrived and often illogical gruesome scenes are tedious and wear you down. Liz is swept in the cruelty of her time while dead bodies pile around her. She’s being hounded by a villain of pure evil that might as well be a vampire.
In a pivotal scene, Liz is forced to watch her young daughter get whipped by her father, who also plans to rape the child, like what he did to her. She forcible twists her arm 180 degrees (her hands were tied behind her back) to break free and stop him.
After more than an hour of this blood and gore spectacle, you’re given an unsatisfying too little too late payoff. Brimstone wants to tell you that incest is evil and hell is a place on earth but delivers atrocious acts with numbing fixation.
What does she get in the end? Liz drowns herself when she’s arrested for a crime done by the woman she stolen her new identity from. The woman was her co-worker in a brothel (where she’s forced to grow up as a prostitute) whose tongue was cut-off for protecting Liz from an abusive customer who forcibly pulled her down to give him a blow job when she was young.
And yeah, her daughter watches on the shore while her mom commits suicide and dies.
Brimstone is a heavy-handed exploitative faux-feminist misery porn movie.
Brimstone is a faux feminist parable in an overlong, tedious, sadomasochistic western drama with a relentless dour script that revels in violence with numbing fixation.