Review

Psychological Thriller She Will – A Film Directed by Charlotte Colbert

Candy Bedworth 15 August 2022 min Read

DailyArt Magazine writer Candy Bedworth interviewed Charlotte Colbert, director of the new film, She Will, released on July 22, 2022. This psychological thriller explores women, witchcraft, and trauma.

Summary

Movie review of a psychological thriller, She Will, combined with an interview featuring director Charlotte Colbert about the problems of womanhood, aging, witchcraft, and trauma.

A Fable

She Will is a dream-like, hypnotic fable about women, witchcraft, and rising from the flames like a phoenix. This psychological thriller sees Veronica, an aging film star, retreat to the Scottish countryside to recover from a double mastectomy, with her young nurse, Desi.

Charlotte Colbert, She Will, 2022

Night-time location shot from She Will, directed by Charlotte Colbert, 2022. Courtesy of Popcorn Group.

Trauma

Trauma is the central theme of the film and, for Veronica, it’s multi-layered. On one hand, it is intensely personal – the trauma of watching your body age, sicken and decay. But it is also the buried trauma and humiliation of an early relationship with a much older “mentor” (a film director played by Malcolm McDowell). Veronica carries a toxic mix of shame and pain: she bears the very physical scars of surgery and the invisible scars of childhood abuse. In Scotland, she unexpectedly taps into the ancestral trauma of generations of women before her, and she starts to see visions of the burnings of witches, persecution carried out on the very land where she is standing.

The film director Charlotte Colbert said:

“The story has themes I’ve always been interested within my practice and within my life. How trauma blurs our experience of reality and time, how nature holds so much solace, how we carry a psychological DNA, how the infinitely small, like a cell, contains the same patterns as the universe. How meaning and perspective and reality and time are all such fragile constructs that can break at any time.”

Sense of Place

Clint Mansell’s musical score combines with Jamie Ramsay’s cinematography to create an intense mood, which lingers long after the film is over. The Scottish landscape is placed front and center, and we can practically taste and smell the peaty earth and the drenching rain. The wooden interior of the train cabin that takes them to Scotland glows richly in the lamplight. Prescient of the raging red fire we will encounter later as we revisit ancient witch burnings perhaps?

Charlotte Colbert, She Will, 2022

Movie still from She Will, Train interior shot, directed by Charlotte Colbert, 2022. Courtesy of Popcorn Group.

Feminist Revenge and #MeToo

The film skilfully weaves themes of the modern Me Too movement and the history of persecuted women, with the solace of nature and the power of sisterhood to restore and heal. That healing at the end of the film may look like revenge, but it is so much more than that. It is a reckoning, it is defiance, and it is a call to arms. There is transformation when Veronica is held by the land beneath her feet, by ancestral women in her dream-state, and then literally held by the young nurse, Desi. Veronica finally feels able to confront her perpetrator, within her dreams, needing him to recognize her truth, but as is so often the case, he does not have the courage.

Charlotte Colbert, She Will, 2022

Portraits of the movie cast (left to right): Malcolm McDowell, Alice Krige, Kota Eberhardt, Rupert Everett. Courtesy of Popcorn Group.

Horror

The film is promoted as a horror, and we do see some of the usual tropes of that genre – levitation and astral projection. But to be honest, it is the raw and very human performances that make this film so compelling, not the supernatural effects. If you’re not into gore, don’t worry. The real terror here is psychological. We experience the turmoil of Veronica’s inner landscape, her unexpressed pain, held inside for so many years, suddenly emerging.

Charlotte Colbert, She Will, 2022

Location shot with Alice Krige from She Will, directed by Charlotte Colbert, 2022. Courtesy of Popcorn Group.

Beautiful Misfits

She Will was four or five years in the making. We discussed how to sustain passion for a project that takes so long, and requires collaboration across many professions. Colbert responded:

“It’s epic, so many people. And it’s a slow burn, getting everything together. I feel blessed because this whole process is so mad. You have this little bean of an idea, that you tentatively put out into the world, and you meet people who believe in it and you share so many things. They all relate to the material, both behind and in front of the camera: the beautiful misfits questioning reality! Being connected with them was such a joy. You don’t realize how much time you’re going to spend together even after the film has been put together. Alice and Kota – thank God I love you guys!”

Mesmerising Krige

Alice Krige is utterly compelling as Veronica. The camera is obsessed with her magnificent face, and it is a visual feast, full of unspoken meaning. The first scene sees her putting on her mask, full make-up behind which she glowers magnificently. Every mask has a function, she announces, and this mask is about preservation. We are 20 minutes into the film before we see the first intimations of her real face, pale, lined, and utterly human. Colbert added:

“Working with an older actress was incredible. It is a statement even having an older woman on screen. We see so many men in their 80s gallivanting across the screen, but no women. She is amazing. I could look at Alice’s face for hours and days.”

Charlotte Colbert, She Will, 2022

Movie still from She Will, directed by Charlotte Colbert, 2022. Courtesy of Popcorn Group.

Mystery and History

Kitty Percy and Charlotte Colbert were both inspired by the magical Scottish landscape, which is so rich in history. They wanted to focus on the solace of nature, but also its potent power to heal. Let us not forget that so-called witches were sometimes midwives, brewers and herbalists: they knew the land and knew how to use the local flora and fauna to assist and nourish their community. That power was labeled “witchcraft.”

Charlotte Colbert, She Will, 2022

Movie still from She Will, Filming with Alice Krige, directed by Charlotte Colbert, 2022. Courtesy of Popcorn Group.

Witches of Scotland

She Will comes hot on the heels of the Witches of Scotland campaign which sought a legal pardon from those accused and convicted in the witch trials held in Scotland between 1563 and 1736. First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon formally apologized on behalf of the Scottish Parliament and promised a national memorial for those accused of witchcraft.

In the interview, Colbert commented:

“It is important to keep rewriting our stories and our past, to have some control over our future. In my sculptural work, I created a piece for Montpellier Museum about re-writing art history. It was a porcelain wall, each brick was a female art historical figure who had been forgotten or neglected, with gaps for those names we have lost, or who were unknown.”

Witchcraft

Veronica and Desi believe they are heading to an isolated retreat, only to find a house filled with people, playing at the supernatural with their crystals, chanting and dancing. The real magic actually happens outside in the wilderness and within Veronica as she opens to the healing power of the landscape and its secrets. To be honest, the two leads are so mesmerizing, their story so powerful, that the other characters sometimes feel sketchy and unnecessary.

Victor Bastidas, Charlotte Colbert portrait

Victor Bastidas, Portrait of artist and film director Charlotte Colbert, 2022. Courtesy of Popcorn Group.

Film Debut

This is Charlotte Colbert’s first full-length film, and it won the best first feature at the Locarno Film Festival. Colbert’s enthusiasm and motivation are utterly captivating. She works in many mediums – film, photography, ceramics, and sculpture. She studied philosophy in Montreal, Canada, in a unique school environment that encouraged students to follow their passions. The director described her early days in the following words:

“The school was quite mad, with a programme set up by Vietnam War protestors and beat poets. It included lots of first generation students going to University which was interesting – people who were feeling the privilege of being in that amazing space to learn. I loved Montreal, it was very friendly.”

Collaboration

Colbert explains that film is a very collaborative process, and also brings in lots of different elements of her art – the visual, the sculptural, the moving image, and even time:

“The film format allows me to link in with dreams, the unconscious, how we process things, the way we try to make sense of the world. I was always interested in stories, questions, narratives. In my work, there is a story behind every image.”

Charlotte Colbert, Benefit Supervisor Sleeping, 2017

Charlotte Colbert, Benefit Supervisor Sleeping, 2017. Photo by David M. Benett, courtesy of Popcorn Group.

Dichotomy

I asked about the challenge of finally getting to a point where we accept that “witches” were actually ordinary women doing amazing things within their community, but then presenting them on film with a supernatural twist. When we “other” the people around us, persecution is sure to follow. Colbert said she wanted to give a new perspective on the witch.

“The first time we see the witches, Veronica is scared, the way we are taught to be. But as the film progresses, and the image recurs, that changes. Her relationship to the image changes, she realizes in some ways, this is linked to something within her, it pushes her to reclaim her own past and her own body. It turns her wound into a strength. It is about giving up shame.”

Fairy Tales

Colbert explains that she used the recurring image of the witch, with slightly changed significance each time. She likened it to the rhythm of a fairy tale, where you come back to verses and images, and each time you can read it in a different way. Colbert is inspired by the writer and historian Marina Warner, who tells us that fairy tales are women’s stories told in code, each with messages hidden within the narrative.

“Traditionally women haven’t been given the space to talk, so a lot of the understanding happens beneath speech. There is the stuff the men are aware of, then the deeper layers that the women understand.”

Charlotte Colbert, Cellular Amulet, 2020

Charlotte Colbert, Cellular Amulet, 2020. Artist’s website.

Witches Rise

Atmospheric and other-worldly, this film is a must-see. It ends on a high with a fabulous cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon by Nouvelle Vague. Oh, and keep an eye out for Basil, a witches’ familiar disguised as a rather portly fox!

“Oh yes, Basil the fox. I was crying with laughter when he arrived. It took ages to find a fox, and when he arrived with his brilliant handler, I thought, my god he’s huge, he’s been eating shortbread and fudge. He became our mascot – everybody loved him!”

If you’re still not convinced, check out the movie trailer!

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