Historically, the horror genre has been unkind to women. They’ve been routinely painted as the victim or a damsel in distress in need of rescue. There have been huge strides forward made over the previous decade, and finally we’re seeing some kind of breakthrough in terms of female writers, director and feminism creeping into genre cinema. When it comes to the sub-genre of torture, despite the balance being changed somewhat (The Woman, Berlin Syndrome, Pet), old clichés still remain. However, in Poor Agnes director Navin Ramaswaran turns genre conventions on their head.
Despite living in a small rural Canadian town it’s remarkably simple for Agnes (Lora Burke) to pursue her reign of terror without arousing suspicion. She likes to kidnap, torture and kill men. She’s highly proficient at it. When Mike (Robert Notman), a private investigator, turns up at her door, Agnes seduces then incarcerates him in the basement. Against all odds, the pair begin to bond. Mike’s initial attempts at self-preservation are worn down to acceptance; becoming an active participant in her deadly game.
Poor Agnes is a deft mixture of psychological warfare, black comedy and knowing horror. The shifting power dynamic between Agnes and Mike is what keeps the film grounded. Both Burke and Notman are excellent, balancing the extremes of their characters’ personalities with ennui or modern inertia. Ramaswaran masterfully subverts and inverts horror clichés, whilst ensuring that their relationship never gets bogged-down within the premise. Poor Agnes is an exciting, offbeat Canadian horror which knows exactly what it’s doing. Brilliant.
The UK premiere of Poor Agnes takes place on 6 October at Grimmfest.