She Will: What’s the Matter?, by David Bax
It’s a fact, overlooked or denied by most of your more superficial film critics, that it’s possible for a bad screenplay to be saved by good direction and filmmaking. I mean, James Cameron has made a whole career out of it but it’s also true of smaller, sadly forgotten movies like Ry Russo-Young‘s lovely The Sun Is Also a Star from a few years back; getting hung up on the familiarity of the plot in a case like that can keep people from appreciating the craft on display. Charlotte Colbert‘s She Will, though, may actually be an example of the opposite. That’s not to say that the movie’s screenplay (cowritten by Colbert and Kitty Percy) is a work of genius. But, with its Clouds of Sils Maria-meets-horror premise of an older actress coming to terms with the fact that the role that made her famous is being recast with a younger star while recuperating from surgery at a forest retreat that may be cursed and haunted, there’s plenty of potential that could have been realized had Colbert not smothered the film in uninspired aesthetic choices.
Innocent in all of this is Alice Krige in the lead role of Veronica. Outside of a supporting role in the second season of Deadwood, I wasn’t very familiar with Krige until Oz Perkins‘ Gretel & Hansel in 2020 in which she gave a lovely and terrifying performance as the witch, equally hypnotizing and repellent. Once again, she is in full command here, casting a different but no less powerful kind of spell, resistant even to the scenery chewing of Rupert Everett.
That makes it even more depressing that She Will is drenched in hackneyed moves straight out of the prestige indie horror playbook, starting with the now eyeroll-inducing upside down shot. After that, we get wide-angled curves, dramatic negative space and other recognizable hallmarks that aren’t quite bad so much as unimaginative.
She Will‘s look gets worse when Veronica arrives at the retreat. The early section, set aboard the train that’s taking her to her idyllic but frightful destination, is underlit. But, upon meeting the rest of the colorful characters staying at the hideaway, the movie is suddenly too bright. Saying it this way will out me as old enough to remember a time when this was true but it’s a flat look I associate more with television than the movies.
Eventually, things start to get trippy. Or, at least, that’s the impression for which Colbert seems to be aiming. But it looks less like a journey through the stargate and more like we’re watching someone’s VFX reel.
She Will aspires to be an updated, feminist entry in the “grande dame guignol” horror subgenre. And many of the ingredients are there, especially with the heavy allusions to the awful crimes of one-time art-horror auteur Roman Polanski. But the package it comes in is too gaudy to be appreciated. Sometimes, that’s enough.