March 12, 2020  (Web Review)

The Nightingale

Shout! Factory, 136 min., R, DVD: $16.99, Blu-ray: $22.99, Feb. 4

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Jennifer Kent’s debut feature The Babadook was one of the most imaginative, chilling horror films of recent years and this follow-up is no less unsettling, though in quite a different way: the monsters are all of the human variety, and more frightening for that very reason. In early nineteenth-century Tasmania, two Irish exiles, Clare (Aisling Franciosi) and Aidan (Michael Sheasby) have married and had a child, but while he has completed his prison term and received official confirmation of his freedom, she remains in thrall to British Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin), despite having completed her seven-year sentence, since he refuses to approve her release from bondage.  After Aidan confronts Hawkins, the soldier takes terrible revenge, leaving Clare to pursue him as he travels north to seek promotion to a captaincy for which his on-site superior has declined to recommend him. She hires Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an aboriginal guide, to lead her, and in the course of the dangerous journey, their mutual hostility gradually turns to understanding and respect, ending in scenes of retribution and redemption that transform a grisly tale of personal revenge and endemic warfare into a wrenching microcosm of the pain wrought by cultural imperialism. Committed performances by Franciosi, Ganambarr, Claflin and the supporting cast lend the black-and-white film, shot in forbidding locales with hand-held camerawork in the constricting academy-box format, a sense of overpowering realism leavened by poetic touches. Despite its epic length, The Nightingale remains engrossing to the very end. Highly recommended. (F. Swietek)