Canuck indie vet Larry Kent Goes All-Out Horror with “SHE WHO MUST BURN”
“SHE WHO MUST BURN.” Hard to ignore that title, especially when pasted over a distressing close-up of a woman’s torched, screaming face that wouldn’t be out of place as a screen grab from Joseph Ellison’s DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE. Not the first thing one expects from idiosyncratic auteur Larry Kent, who was the ground zero of independent cinema in Canada 50 years ago with such classics of counter-cultural abandon and generational disenchantment as THE BITTER ASH (1963) and HIGH (1969), and best known recently for 2005’s festival favorite of family dysfunction, THE HAMSTER CAGE. And yet Kent, now well into his 70s, is, against all expectations, hard at work in Vancouver on his first ever lunge into the horror genre with SHE WHO MUST BURN, described as a “political, feminist, ultra-violent horror movie” that brazenly takes shots at the Christian Right’s pro-life lobby.
SHE WHO MUST BURN is the story of Angela (Sarah Smyth), a small town Planned Parenthood staffer whose office is padlocked by new statewide anti-abortion laws. When she refuses to abandon her clinic, and takes in a teenage girl who’s been witch-hunted for an out of state abortion after being raped, it sparks a pyre of righteous furor among the fanatical local religious leaders, the Baarker clan, led by Baptist minister Jeremiah, his devoted follower Caleb, and Caleb’s wife (and Jeremiah’s sister), the brutal matriarch Rebecca – who the Baarkers’ congregation believe is an honest-to-goodness conduit for the Word of God. Unfortunately for Angela, it seems God has singled out both her and her clinic as singular examples of the Devil’s work to be eradicated at all costs, forcing Angela, her boyfriend, Mac, the town’s deputy, and Annie, the teenage girl, to fight for their lives as the Baarkers’ zeal turns murderous and the rule of Law decays into brutish mob mentality.
For Kent, whose heavily improvised, naturalistic performance method rightly deserves him the reputation of a Canadian John Cassavetes, this is – to put it mildly – an unusual late-career trajectory. Genre fans are accustomed to our favorite filmmakers bursting from the gate with visceral, unhinged, angry works in their youth, only to absolve to more mature or commercial considerations as they age. Kent, on the other hand, waited until his final quarter of a century to embrace the genre, and he’s done so with incendiary rage, unrepentantly angry at a changing world order that’s systemically stripping away the hard won battles for civil, spiritual, cultural, sexual, bodily rights won by a discontented generation that had been his subject matter 50 years ago.
For those who caught Kent’s last film EXLEY (2011), about one man’s indignity-ridden odyssey to scrape up $1000 for a cross-country trip to see his dying mother, you’ve witnessed Kent’s knack for long, lingering, immersive, minimally edited scenes of rising unease and discomfort, and the improvisational style and rhythm of Kent’s core Vancouver-based cast and crew, many of who return for the production of SHE WHO MUST BURN, including Andrew Moxham (editor of EXLEY) and EXLEY’s titular leading man, Shane Twerdun, here in the role of Minister Jeremiah Baarker.
Oh, and lest we forget, SHE WHO MUST BURN’s original score will be composed by none other than Fango editor-in-chief Chris Alexander, who has been recording dusty, spooky mood pieces for nearly as long as he’s been writing about them, including scores for Scott Phillips’ zombie western THE STINK OF FLESH (2005) and his own experimental vampire fever dream BLOOD FOR IRINA (2012).