"the paranormal, gothic and mystical elements present in the movie, make its purpose disappear in a sea of confusion and dissatisfaction"
Presented at the Toronto film festival last year, Gwen is a gothic period drama set in the beautiful but harsh Welsh countryside.
The plot revolves around Gwen, a young country girl living with her mother and sister in the desolate hills of Snowdonia in the mid 19th century. With her father absent as he has gone off to war, and her mother is battling a creepy illness, Gwen is responsible for taking care of her sister and completing all the chores on the farm.
However, her home doesn’t feel safe, especially at night, when darkness seems to envelop everything, between a ruthless paymaster, looking to seize their only family possession, and her mother’s worsening mental condition, Gwen finds herself battling against protecting what is hers from both paranormal and earthly forces.
While the first half of the film seems to set up multiple situations that build up an aura of mystery by implementing paranormal activities throughout the scenes, McGregor doesn’t seem to find a way to give an exact answer to all the questions he poses from the beginning.
The plot has a few holes that become quite hard to fill and connect. Too often reality becomes blurry, leaving too much space to the gothic side of the story and feeding the paranormal and demonic forces without any clear purpose. What it lacks in storytelling, it makes up for with and is perfected with the cinematography.
The photography frames the wilderness in an extremely poetic way. Watching the untouched beauty of the Welsh countryside is almost hypnotic. It is precisely the landscape that adds up to the mystical element of the story. Natural darkness becomes a way to enhance Gwen’s state of mind, almost projecting her feelings on her surroundings.
Shadows and darkness play together in creating a constant dreadful feeling throughout the movie, the audience is pushed to believe that demonic forces are taking root, especially in possessing her mother, putting Gwen in danger, while in reality all seems to be a trick played by her mind to find an explanation to things that she doesn’t understand. However, in the end, destruction comes from the people Gwen knows and are trying to take advantage of her and her family.
While both Eleanor Worthington-Cox and Maxine Peake bring to the screen powerful performances, the lack of a consistent plot and deep characterisation of any secondary character, leaves the movie with a deeply violent ending that doesn’t serve any purpose.
Although stylistic, Gwen is a well visually constructed folkloristic film, however, the not so convincing story paired with the paranormal, gothic and mystical elements present in the movie, make its purpose disappear in a sea of confusion and dissatisfaction.