As part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019
Set in rural Wales in the midst of the industrial revolution, Gwen focuses on an isolated farming family – mother Elen and her two daughters Gwen and Mari- as they attempt to keep their farm functioning despite forces seemingly conspiring against them. It is a Gothic drama that highlights the difficulty of life during the period; especially those in rural communities being forced about the encroaching forces of ‘progress.’ At the same time though, it is a film seemingly unsure of its identity.
Between its beautiful cinematography and stunning vistas of the Welsh valleys, Gwen is a visual delight to behold. Moreover, it excellently captures the isolation and pathetic fallacy necessary for the film and the Gothic genre. Yet it is also a greatly indecisive film in what type of horror it wants to commit to. Torn between realism exploring the barbaric nature of ‘civilised’ society, and supernatural-come-pagan elements.
Gwen is a fundamentally feminist film, even if its underlying dichotomy between male and female feels a tad basic. That said, this aspect works because it is the main driving force behind both the horror and the narrative. As a result, it conveys the desired level of discomfort in a manner not that dissimilar to Get Out or The Witch. Unfortunately though, the inclusion of certain supernatural elements consequently feels deeply misplaced, as though writer/director William McGregor wasn’t sure what these were leading to. Similarly the few jump-scares, while effective and unsettling, feel tonally out of place for what is otherwise a drama with slow-burn horror aspects.
The dramatic elements fare better, in part due to the strength of its cast. In particular, Eleanor Worthington-Cox shines as the eponymous Gwen, successfully capturing the naivety of her character; while Maxine Peake is genuinely unsettling as her mother, and she continues her recent run of strong performances. The two play off of each other well, but sadly Gwen’s unwillingness to fully commit to drama or horror, nor entirely flesh them out means that these performances are lost somewhere in between and the film flounders as a result.
UK Premiere screenings at Odeon Edinburgh Sun 23 and Vue Omni Centre Tue 25 Jun 2019