Film Review: The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent’s sophomore film The Nightingale is brutal and engrossing. The film is a wonderful showcase for Kent’s conferrable talents.

In 1825, Irish convict Clare suffers a traumatic experience. As she seeks revenge, Clare enlists the help of Billy, an Aboriginal tracker, to guide her through the Tasmanian wilderness…

After the success of 2014’s The Babadook, writer-director Jennifer Kent’s second feature has been eagerly awaited. The Nightingale does not disappoint in its scale and its scope. The film is a trial by fire, delivering a multifaceted retribution tale. 

From the very beginning, the tone of The Nightingale is unsettling. Things quickly get worse, setting up the revenge narrative. Kent ably maintains a sense of tension throughout. The mission is fraught with danger and horror. Nevertheless there is a building of hope to punctuate the bleakness. 

Kent does not shy away from the visceral with The Nightingale. Some of the sequences are incredibly brutal, making them very difficult to watch. The filmmaker forces her viewers to confront evil; it is uncomfortable but not exploitative. Like The Babadook, the film is preoccupied with grief. Here, the anguish is spread out. There is of course the grief of protagonist Clare dealing with a profound and immediate loss. Billy himself deals with the loss of family, but also the loss of a country. Kent places the theft of Australia at the centre of the film, never shying away from the loss and the torment of Aboriginal people. It is of course a wider critique of empire, yet very much a film about Australia. 

The narrative progresses well, with the threat of peril always looming. Sound design in the film is most effective. Kent’s direction places viewers with the protagonists in an intimate and intense manner. Performances are great all round, with Aisling Franciosi delivering an impressive turn. Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman and Sam Claflin are also solid. 

The Nightingale is an unremitting and unforgiving film, yet it is also very powerful viewing. Jennifer Kent is clearly a filmmaker to watch.

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