Halloween Moviefest 2020 - Movie #6 - The Nightingale

Updated: Oct 23



Streaming Service: Hulu

Watched 10/6/2020

Trigger Warnings: rape, infanticide (I’ll be adding TW when I deem necessary)

Though The Nightingale is considered a psychological thriller, I definitely put this into the rape\revenge horror genre. The horror of this film is that this was reality. The film is written and directed by Jennifer Kent, the director behind the horror movie The Babadook. The film takes place during the colonization of Australia. Our main character, Clare, is an Irish indentured servant who is sent to Australia as a convict. Orphaned at a young age, she lived on the streets and stole to survive. When the film opens, Clare is on the verge of freedom from her indentured servitude. Clare works for the British Regiment as a maid. She’s married to an Irishman and has a beautiful little baby daughter. She has a beautiful singing voice and performs for the regiment (her singing is an important part of the story, btw). Though she should have all the things in life to make her happy, she cannot escape the British officer, Hawkins, who completely controls her life and brutalize as her. She cannot compel Hawkins, who owns her, to give her release papers even though she has served her time.

When Clare’s husband insists that Hawkins releases her, things swiftly spiral out of control. The sole survivor of a terrible night, Clare starts out after Hawkins who is on his way to claim a promotion and new posting up north. Clare enlists the help of an aborigines man, Billy, to help her track down “her husband” and does not tell him that she’s actually seeking revenge.

As the two slowly make their way across hostile territory, it soon becomes clear they have more in common than they realized. Billy and Clare’s stories completely intertwine as they realize they are at the mercy of the same set of people who see them as nothing more than animals and often an inconvenience. The struggle between the natives of Australia and the invaders of their lands is vividly played out in the backdrop. It’s a war and it’s clear who is losing.

Meanwhile, Hawkins continues his sociopathic ways bringing destruction to most who crosses his path. He is a villain that is easy to hate because his cruelty knows no bounds.

The film is long and takes its time telling a complete story. It is incredibly violent because it is historically accurate. Aborigines elders helped with the film and it shows.

Though the rapes are not shown in explicit detail, they are still extremely disturbing. There’s no nudity or sensationalizing what happens. The power dynamic is the main focus. The cruelty of the rapist and the helplessness of the victims are shown very vividly. That’s why I have attached a trigger warning to this review. I’m also giving a trigger warning for infanticide. The death of Clare’s daughter is not shown in explicit detail, but is still incredibly disturbing.

The Nightingale tells a deeply upsetting story. It’s disturbing because we know this was the reality of so many people during this time. The aborigines to this day still deal with cruel racism directed at them by the people who conquered their land. Billy is an amazing character and I hope the actor goes on to a long and successful career because he deserves it. All the performances in this film are stellar.

I recommend this film for people who like historically accurate films and exploration of stories of those who are not often paid attention to in the historical record.

Spoiler Section

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Though I really wanted to see Clare kill Hawkins, I can understand why she couldn’t. The brutal killing of the man who murdered her daughter was too much for her. It took FOREVER for him to die and it only compounded her trauma. Billy killing those two men for her was not only for his tribe they had murdered, but for his friend. It was very touching.

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