Filled with startling images of man and life being overcome by growing, ‘The Beguiled’ is a Gothic horror film for the ages, that is built with such a sense of foreboding dread it is intensely alarming. While gathering mushrooms in the forest not far from the mansion in which she resides, a young girl, carefully keeping those poisonous from edible stumbles upon a wounded soldier. Knowing men are not to be trusted, she calls for the Head Mistress, Martha, portrayed by Nicole Kidman, who takes the badly wounded Confederate soldier, John, portrayed by Colin Farrell into the mansion in which they live, sort of a finishing school for young southern ladies.
They bandage his wounds, they allow him rest, they dote on him and begins to heal and as he does the sexual energy in the residence rises by the hour, you can feel the heat as we begin to realize a wolf has been allowed into the chicken house. He finds himself attracting the attentions of two ladies in particular, the sad and mournful Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and the tempestuous and sexually aware Alicia (Elle Fanning). All the while the fighting between north and south can be heard in the distance.
As the sexual energy mounts, the gazes linger, things become physical, Martha, watching it all with disapproval, makes plans for John, plans to which he is oblivious. He grows cocky, bossy even, and makes clear his intentions. Martha is not about to allow that and in a moment of mounting dread asks for the anatomy book. From this point, the films become a Gothic horror film, with the women lashing back at John who upon waking screams, calling then “Vengeful bitches”.
Kidman has not been this good for a long time. She gives a near regal performance, staring down at a broken John with an imperious gaze, both off putting yet perhaps a clue to where this is all going. She does not back down from him, giving him a sponge bath, her eyes challenging him with every stroke. It is a brilliant piece of acting in a film filled with them. A woman scorned indeed. Dunst also gives a great performance as the broken Edwina, her downcast eyes rarely connecting with anyone. She is fragile, no question, but not quite as delicate as John judges her. Equally fine is Elle Fanning as the sexually aggressive Alicia, who wants to kiss a man, but then decides she would like to go further than that, which turns out John is fine with. Farrell is superb as John but let’s be clear this film belongs to the women.
Coppola took the Clint Eastwood film of 1971 and re-imagined it through the eyes of the women managing to find greater tension, and a mounting sense of dread that becomes full blown horror. Not since Lost in Translation (2003) has she made such a powerful, outstanding film. She recently won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director and seems poised to earn her second Academy Award nomination.