After a doctor at small-town abortion clinic is murdered, its councillor Angela continues to give advice, despite the opposition and threats from the local evangelical congregation, who believe that a spate of sick children is God’s punishment for suffering her to live, rather than the local mine poisoning the water supply, and begin hounding her in a modern day witch hunt.
Despite its subject matter this is not a film discussing the morality of abortion, but rather the slow erosion of the rights of women in an age and a country that both pride themselves for their purported modernity, and those people who would see society dragged back into the Dark Ages, while law enforcement panders to their anachronistic conviction in theocratic doctrine.
We might perceive the Westboro Baptists and others of their ilk as little more than a joke, given disproportionate levels of media attention, but when people genuinely believe their actions serve the will of a higher power, than the laws that maintain the nation in which they live (and by convenient coincidence that will always seeming to coincide with their own beliefs) they have the potential to become truly dangerous. In doing so, they grant themselves the right to dictate who has the right to live, and so they can decree who should die.
Representing such backward fundamentalism is the loathsome pastor Jeremiah Baarker, co-writer Shane Twerdun is a manifestation of the banality of evil. Soft-spoken, a perpetual smug half-smile and never seeming to blink, he regurgitates misogynistic preachings of man’s natural dominion over women with such conviction it takes you aback that someone can genuinely take such beliefs seriously, and you itch to put a fist through his face long before you witness his remorseless abuse of his wife.
Most of the congregation are anonymous sign-waving thugs with no presence beyond making up a force of numbers, which is precisely the point. Like a colony of insects mutely manoeuvring in a singular purpose, until given new commands, these people have no personality or resolve of their own, but merely obey Baarker’s instructions with such slavish and unthinking piety that their actions are an extension of his own will to obstruct and negate all the good that Angela attempts to do, through intimidation and violence. All the while a colossal storm heads towards the town, as if the Almighty himself is voicing his displeasure at the crimes of wanton hate being perpetrated in his name.
Viewing She Who Must Burn is something of an endurance test. Not in that phrase’s usual sense of being utterly tedious, but because sitting though it is a physically draining ordeal that takes a while to fully recover from. The close-up handheld camerawork gives events an uncomfortable intimacy, forcing you to acknowledge the repugnant actions committed by the faithful, while implying a tacit complicity on your part and demanding to know what you’re going to do about them. The film’s heavy and unflinching portrayal of all too real subject matter is an unforgiving and harrowing experience that never relents for a moment.
SHE WHO MUST BURN / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: LARRY KENT / SCREENPLAY: LARRY KENT, SHANE TWERDUN / STARRING: SARAH SMYTH, SHANE TWERDUN, ANDREW MOXHAM, MISSY CROSS, ANDREW DUNBAR / RELEASE DATE: TBA