Best described as a western-set dramatic thriller, this English-language debut from Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven will sit well with fans of the now-commonplace cable-drama binge session, as well as those looking for something to fill a void created by The Revenant. A non-linear tale of persecution and abuse, Brimstone’s an out-of-left-field triumph, a gloriously-captured and gripping story, anchored by a career-best performance from Dakota Fanning and peppered with a deliciously swinging-from-the-rafters turn by Guy Pearce.
A difficult plot to lay out without delving into spoilerific territory, Brimstone takes the form of four Biblically-named chapters set out-of-sequence and chronicling the plight of mute midwife and mother Liz (Fanning) and a young girl named Joanna (Emilia Jones). In each of their two chapters, the arrival (and subsequent reunion with) a foam-mouthed and tyrannical Reverend (played by Pearce) leads to the almost immediate devastation of their lives, The Reverend quickly forming a harbinger of doom that their world may well not survive.
Brimstone’s non-linear and compartmentalised structure proves something of a double-edged sword, leading – by way of each chapter running roughly thirty-five to forty minutes – to an immediate feeling of binge-watching, though that same structure does indeed give Brimstone a sharpened edge it would doubtless lack were it executed with a more bog-standard A-to-B-to-C construction. It’s a testament to the performances of Fanning, Pearce, and Jones, however, that their individual portrayals add wonderfully to the mystique said structure provides, ensuring Brimstone quickly emerges one of the more interesting features of recent months.
Key to that intrigue is a stellar pool of collaborative talent behind the camera, with cinematographer Rogier Stoffers delivering breathtaking visuals, Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) keeping the atmospheric both tense and electric, and director Koolhaven making the most of suspenseful editing by Job ter Burg without ever betraying the pace or the languid sensibilities needed to make Brimstone as edge-of-your-seat gripping as it can indeed be. Its runtime may prove daunting for some – a hair shy of two-and-a-half hours – but those looking for a meaty mesmerising period thriller built atop compelling characters and terrific performances need look no further.
Brimstone is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, September 29th; rated 18. Check out the trailer below.