Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is the latest addition in an already fantastic year of experimental and daring thrillers from auteur filmmakers who set out as if they have nothing to lose. And thankfully, Kent’s latest passion project works with wonder, juxtaposing its ultra-violent content with a bandaged plot that wraps the entire film in one tight bow. While it doesn’t quite hold the audience’s interest all the way through and is at points gratuitous with its violence, The Nightingale is every bit jaw-dropping as it is horrifying, splendid as it is sickening, terrific as it is terrifying. Kent’s directorial feat strives to be everything, and even when it can’t quite hit the mark, it certainly comes close.
Starring Aisling Franciosi and Sam Claflin in leading roles, what’s immediately striking about the film from the very first frame is its stretched aspect ratio. Calling back to the films of decades prior, Kent furthers the somewhat nostalgic impressions with a mostly gray color scheme that pops with occasional flair. Like the film itself, director of photography Radek Ladczuk makes smart use of the audience’s constant edge, manipulating it to create some fantastic and memorable sequences. The same could equally be said for the sound design which proves to be similarly simple in nature but fantastic in execution. There’s something beautiful about how Kent and company structures The Nightingale, in all of its disparate parts, as a simple building with a dark and gruesome core.
Yes, The Nightingale is undoubtedly one of the most grotesque films of 2019 and will most likely shock general audiences like most art-house horror films have, and at times, there’s no doubt that it can wear down the viewer. Seeing constant spurts of blood and gore does make for a meaningful storytelling device when used sparingly, unfortunately, Kent relies a bit too heavily on this front, essentially desensitizing the viewer to the film’s third act. It’s disappointing because The Nightingale acts like a brilliant crescendo, constantly increasing in raw energy to the point where it might as well explode.
As for the performances, Aisling Franciosi turns in a magnificent role as Clare. Fierce, mystified, and disturbing, her character reflects everything that The Nightingale tries to be and mostly is, a mixture of tropes and clichés to create something wholly new. I’m not confident it’s the flashy performance that will nail her nominations and awards come the end of the year, but it’s most certainly a feather in an actress’s already deep cap.