5 to See: Southern Gothic

This week’s selection is a compilation of contemporary southern gothic film. A subversion of the classic nostalgic narrative, these are dark and atmospheric, reimagining the south and tackling ideas of class, privilege, poverty and power structures.

Winter’s Bone (2010), Dir. Debra Granik, Roadside Attractions

Set in the rural Ozark’s of Missouri, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone is an intense drama film starring a young Jennifer Lawrence. Adapted from a novel of the same name, it’s an unflinchingly raw portrayal of a community living amongst the wilderness, all but forgotten by modernity. Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a wilful 17-year-old girl who is fulltime carer to her mentally ill mother and two younger siblings. When their bleak hand-to-mouth existence is suddenly threatened by her drug dealing father’s disappearance, Ree must wade through dark waters and break local conventions in order to ensure their survival.

No Country for Old Men (2007), Dir. Ethan & Joel Coen, Miramax

A classic Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men is based on a 2005 novel by American author Cormac McCarthy. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin, this dark western film is set in the desolate landscape of 1980’s Texas. When Brolin’s character happens upon a bag of money left behind in the aftermath of a drug deal gone south, he sets in motion a drastic chain of events and a thrilling chase. Widely considered the Coen brothers greatest masterpiece, the film received many accolades upon its release including the Academy Award for Best Picture and The BAFTA for Best Director.

Mud (2012), Dir. Jeff Nichols, Lionsgate

Starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Nichols’ Mud is a sensitive coming of age drama set in the poverty-stricken bayous of rural Arkansas. When two 14-year-old boys encounter an elusive stranger living on a small island in the Mississippi river, they strike up a friendship and he becomes an unlikely role model. As time goes on, the stranger’s dark past begins to unravel and the boys are forced to question their notions of morality. As beautiful as it is bleak, this film is an enchanting look at the struggling communities living in houseboats along the bayous.

Stoker (2013), Dir. Park Chan-wook, Fox Searchlight 

Stoker marked the English-language debut of legendary South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Old Boy). This gritty psychological thriller, although not as overtly violent as Chan-wook’s other works, is a disturbing meditation on jealousy, revenge and family tragedy. Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, a hypersensitive 18-year-old girl whose life is thrown into upheaval with the sudden death of her loving father. Left with a mentally deranged mother, the plot thickens with the arrival of an uncle she had previously never heard of. Suspicion turns to obsession in this dark and brooding mystery.

The Beguiled (2017), Dir. Sofia Coppola, Universal Pictures

A remake of the 1971 film of the same name, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is a haunting gothic drama set during the American civil war. Starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, the film depicts the gradual decline of lavish southern estates towards the end of the war. At a near abandoned girls school in Virginia, the quiet isolation of the few remaining inhabitants is disrupted by the arrival of a wounded Union soldier. Taken in by the women, the soldier gradually begins to heal but as tensions begin to rise between these not so delicate southern belles; it becomes clear that he is anything but safe.

1. Still from Stoker. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.