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WiHM: She Who Must Burn (2016)

It's always a bit of a risk making a movie that deals with a hot button political issue. While traditionally horror films have a legacy of delving into social issues, they aren’t always as front and center as in She Who Must Burn. When they social issue is abortion, well, it doesn't come much more controversial and risky.

She Who Must Burn, directed by Larry Kent stars Sarah Smyth, Shane Twerdun (who co-wrote the script) and Jewel Staite (Firefly). Smith is Angela, a worker at a local abortion clinic that has shut down after a doctor is murdered by a local religious leader. Angela stays behind in order to help local women and runs afoul of the leader's cult-like followers.

There's no escape for She Who Must Burn

Right off the bat I know a lot of people will complain that this treats right to life Christians in a bad light. Maybe it does, in the same way that The Hills Have Eyes presents children of incest in a bad light. You might even say that Hills is much more unfair to its subject, since abortion providers have been murdered in recent history, whereas stories of cannibalism by inbred families are pretty much unheard of.

So toss out any complaints about the film being unfair and lets just watch the movie. First, it's beautifully filmed, scenes of the rural landscape look bleak but all too real. They remind you this is a film set in a different America, an America of rural, low income people struggling to survive and hold on to their way of life. It’s a film set among the forgotten people, those overlooked in our rush for social justice and progressive values. Growing up in rural Mississippi, that landscape is all to familiar. The visuals are what make this film work so well. It anchors some of the more exaggerated (hopefully) acts in a firm reality.

The acting is top notch, from Smyth, Twerdun, and especially Missy Cross, as the bat shit crazy sister of Twerdun's character. Somehow she is able to go completely off the rails and still remain very real, very believable. The cast and director do a great job of making all the characters seem real people and not caricatures, or one dimensional representations of a belief. While Angela may be diametrically opposed to the local belief system, she never looks down on them and seems to actually care for them. She knowingly stays around in spite of the danger to her own life.

All the characters seem real, which adds a complexity that is important for a film like She Who Must Burn. It elevates it to a true film and not just a propaganda piece. That and it never makes a moral judgment on the actual act of abortion, nor on those who oppose abortion, just the ones who use violence to oppose it.

In fact, its social statement reaches much deeper than the abortion issue. It subtly but clearly points to how the powerful use belief and tradition to control people. We see the coal workers, sick, dirty, unable to afford health care. We are told the water is poisoned and the children are dying. But we don't blame the corporations, we don't blame pollution, we blame sin. We fight those trying to help us and follow those telling us what we want to hear, be they politicians or religious leaders.

She Who Must Burn

And the last 15-20 minutes of She Who Must Burn is absolutely brutal. It's intense, violent, and bloody. It's shocking, and that's coming from a guy who loves shocking movies, and it's utterly unrepentant. Even the villains of the movie seemed shocked at their actions. You know when the climatic final segment begins that it isn't going to end well. It can't end well, as a storm hits both literally and figuratively, a storm taken as a judgment from God, but really just a storm born of nature, alongside a storm born of human nature. The rain falls on the just and unjust, so does violence and death.

There's no doubt She Who Must Burn is a good movie, hell it's a great movie. But will you like it? That's a different issue. If you are a firm believer in the right to life movement, you might think it's painting your belief in an unfair light. Personally, I think it's more an attack on those who use the movement for their own devices, and maybe how we let our belief systems blind us to actual human compassion. I'd like to think that if both sides of this film just sat down and talked, Angela and Jonathon they would have actually understood each other. Which is kind of like real life isn't it? We had rather curse at each other, than talk to each other. Or maybe not. Maybe we are just as doomed as the people in She Who Must Burn.

Other than that, it's a real dark, depressing, nihilistic film which may turn off a lot of people. It's not your gory slasher film, with one liners and stupid teens. It's a real dark, hopeless, horror movie with some extremely dark and gory scenes. This is a movie that will stay with you. It will bother you. I'm sure a lot of people might not agree, but it gets a five out of five stars from me.

Posted by Allen Alberson

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