The year is 1864, and it is during the American Civil War. Not far from the ongoing war, we have a mansion of young ladies schooled by their teacher, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman). Among the cast, we also have Elle Fanning as a student and Kirsten Dunst as a teacher.
One day, one of the students is out picking mushrooms and comes across wounded Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell). The corporal is weak and desperate for help. The young girl agrees to take him back to the school so he can heal and recover. As the corporal recovers and begins to know the girls better, sexual tension, jealousy and betrayal begins to grow within the school. Is the corporal an enemy? A manipulator? Or just a handsome, respectful charmer?
As I began to watch this film, I noticed the film’s aspect ratio felt incorrect. It made me curious and worried about my TV! After the movie ended I discovered that director Sofia Coppola chose the 1.66:1 aspect ratio because she wanted to make the film feel claustrophobic. The different aspect is creative, but it personally didn’t make me feel claustrophobic or notably different for that matter.
I enjoyed the film’s story and the mystery behind our leading man. The film managed to create many questions from the get-go that can only be explained as the film goes on. The film’s audio track (along with the Aspect ratio) packs plenty of detail. Even within the opening scene where a young girl is collecting mushroom, you can hear explosions and gunshots from the far distance, the crunching of the sticks under her feet and the crickets in the air. The detail throughout the entire film was a pleasure to hear. From a visual point of view, the film is pretty dull. Some of the primary colours heavily used include dark grey and dark army green.
While the film is entertaining, the way it’s told often jumps from scene to scene far too quickly. For example, our teacher calls the girls to eat dinner and just as they begin to eat, the teacher will then say ‘it’s time to go to another room to sing and pray’. The film never seems to stay put for any stable duration.
Another odd part of the story is the overall lack of security and protection for our leading girls. Even as viewers, we know the man is a potential risk and could be dangerous. The teacher also warns the girls to lock the door and stay away. But for some reason the girls ignore, or worse, use the key that has been left in the door, letting anyone enter the room and have conversations with the Mystery Corporal. Why didn’t the teacher just put the key around her neck or hide it? As for other funny, odd moments, the list goes on.
I did enjoy how the film felt like two films in one. The 1st half was full of mystery, and the 2nd half had the reveals and outcomes. The film, however, is incredibly predictable long before the film’s finale.
Overall, Beguiled tries to bring a suspenseful film filled with mysteries and curiosity. The film’s pace seemed to jump quicker than a frog in a pond. Many times I found some of the character’s actions slightly unacceptable and silly. The film’s aspect is creative, but again not knowing in advance made me think something was wrong, and it felt distracting instead. As a film, it’s not awful, and it’s not great, it’s just not one for me.
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Review Written by Peter Walkden