Whilst in many ways the Old West was a lawless place, that didn’t mean to say that a lot of people didn’t hold fast to religion. As you’d expect in a such a wild and unforgiving place, the (fire)brand of Christianity favoured was that of Hellfire and damnation. In Westerns, preachers are not always benevolent, epitomised by Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider. In Martin Koolhoven’s new film Brimstone, his holy man is riddled with malevolence.
Liz (Dakota Fanning), who is mute midwife, lives a quiet yet contented life with her husband Eli (William Houston), his son from a previous marriage (Jack Hollington) and their daughter (Vera Vitali). This all changes when a new minister (Guy Pearce) arrives in town. As soon as she hears his voice Liz is absolutely terrified. Eli can’t understand why, but she refuses to go near him. When a newborn dies, the reverend blames the death on her. This sets off a chain of events which become increasingly disturbing and point to the pair having past history.
Brimstone is a long and brutal drama which starts at the end and backtracks to the beginning. Split into three chapters, and followed by a coda, Koolhoven plays up on Biblical themes. Dakota Fanning is excellent as Liz, completely investing herself in the role. The runtime and structure are, at times, problematic, but she’s a force of nature throughout. For all its faults, Brimstone is a compelling tale which affords Fanning the platform to really shine.
Brimstone is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Thunderbird Releasing on 19 February.