Brimstone is an archaic noun for sulphur, it is also the name of a bright yellow butterfly or moth, and in biblical terms it is an inflammable mineral substance found in quantities on the shores of the Dead Sea, used to express the idea of excruciating torment and figuratively denote destruction or punishment. Brimstone is also a 2016 Martin Koolhoven film, named as such, not because its a lovely coming of age story about a caterpillar becoming a beautiful bright yellow butterfly, but because instead, its a not so lovely coming of age story about biblical destruction, punishment and excruciating torment.
Chapter 1: There’s A New Reverend in Town
Set in the old western times and divided into four chapters, Brimstone begins by introducing us to Liz (Dakota Fanning) and her family who live in a small western town, Liz is the towns midwife but is also a mute so communicates through sign language and is also assisted by her daughter who works as a kind of translator for her, when they arrive at church one day there is a new reverend in town played by Guy Pearce, Liz is instantly fearful of the reverends motives, but for reasons unknown. As the first chapter progresses we see more of the darker, evil side of the reverend as he seems to have it out for Liz and her family and is doing some real twisted stuff to torment them, leading to Liz having to flee for safety.
The story in the first chapter does really well to grab the viewers attention and introduce the main players of the game, The Reverend and Liz, but what really makes the story very clever is that it leaves a thick, dense air of mystery over the whole debacle, leaving you wondering why The Reverend is such an evil bastard? Why is Liz a mute and why has The Reverend got these mysterious Joker-esque scars? You could say “So many questions, so little time” but there is still 1 hour 45 minute of film left at this point, so plenty of time to sort this confusion out.
Chapter 2: Tongues & Titties
The plot thickens further in chapter 2 as we are now introduced to a young girl, Joanna (Emilia Jones), roaming the desert who gets picked up and inducted into a fine adult entertainment establishment, known in layman terms as a brothel. So the dense air of mystery from chapter 1 continues into chapter 2 as we are left with questions about who this young girl is and how she links to the previous story of chapter 1. This time round the story continues to be that of a dark nature and portrays what can be a harrowing experience for women who sadly find themselves involved with the seedy world of prostitution, but it adds a bit of a lighter tone with the introduction of Paul Anderson‘s character of Frank who is somewhat of a similar character to the one he plays in Peaky Blinders, in that overall you know he is a bad person but is kind of likable in a weird sort of way, and you also get to see some boobies as well.
As the chapter moves on it reveals as to how the story connects to the previous chapter and shows how the plot is actually moving backwards in order to answer the previous questions chapter 1 brought up, specifically about Liz’s past and how she became to be a mute, with a very saddening, cleverly crafted tale of love and loss playing out. It still leaves many things to be answered however and the complete air of mystery over The Reverend remains, which works to build a great sense of anticipation for what is still to come after what turned out to be quite a brutal and bloody ending to chapter 2, a chapter which began with a much more light hearted nature overall.
Chapter 3: Jesus Effing Christ
So chapter 3 begins in a much similar fashion to chapter 2 in that introduces two totally new characters with Samuel (Kit Harington) & Nathan (Bill Tangradi), outlaws who’s story slowly throughout the chapter become intertwined with the main plot of the chapter, which now revolves round the backstory of The Reverend and Joanna. This chapter is where the film, which is already extremely dark and gothic, delves even further into a dark and destitute pit of all manner of unnerving taboo subjects in order to come full circle and reveal how this harrowing journey through time began, in yet again a very saddening, yet cleverly crafted story.
This chapter is where you really learn just what a real evil bastard The Reverend is with a great performance from Guy Pearce making The Reverend a real unsettling person to watch, especially when partnered with the great emotional performances from Carice Van Houten, who plays The Reverends wife and Emilia Jones, who plays Joanna, whose characters are truly terrified of The Reverend but are also trapped within his messed up ideologies. There is however, one little light hearted undertone that gives a little break from the otherwise pitch black tones of the film, and that is Kit Harington‘s American accent, which is such a goof.
Chapter 4: Back to the Future
So after the dark and disturbing travel through time, chapter 4 brings the thing full circle and finishes up where chapter 1 left off, with The Reverend sneakily pursuing Liz and her family. This is where the story kind of losing traction because of the thoroughly shocking and intense nature of the previous chapters and the majority of the answers we had being questioned, the finale of the film loses it feel of intensity and even though it is still interested to see how the story plays out, it isn’t as much of an enthralling story as it once was. It seems as though the film makers may have sensed this in a way as they really drag out one scene which is really quite brutal in this chapter for a bit too long, which seems like they are just trying to cheaply up the shock factor because they’ve realised the story has gone past its prime a bit, but it just makes it excruciatingly painful to watch really.
Overall, Brimstone was a thoroughly intriguing story told in a very clever, intricate way which left the viewer piecing all the different bits together as it went along, great performance throughout, especially from Guy Pearce who portrays one of the baddest of the bad there is, a great representation of many of the evils that exist in the world we live in and is one of those films which really leaves you thinking about the complexity of life after. However, even though the story is told in a smart way, the story does fizzle out a tad in the last act and doesn’t hit the same standards as previous chapters of the film as they choose to go for shock value over substance in the last part, but overall a very intriguing watch.
Rub a Dub Dub, Guy Pearce in a Gubb.