If you’ve laid eyes upon the trailer for The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola’s highly anticipated new film staring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a thriller.
A tense, intoxicating thriller nonetheless, where women in delicate white dressers drift across a ghostly southern estate and fall under the seductive power of a mentally unstable and abusive soldier.
And while there is certainly a hint of truth in the above synopsis, it’s alarmingly far from the whole story.
The first time I saw The Beguiled was at the Sydney Film Festival, a few weeks before it dropped in cinemas. The theatre was filled to capacity, with movie goers eager to see what horrors Sofia could possibly be about to release on screen.
As the movie played out before us there were a few expected gasps, but for the most part the dominate sound that could be heard booming across the theatre was laughter. Raucous, sometimes nervous, but mostly all consuming laughter.
Which, for a movie that appeared to have been made solely with the intent to induce shivers down your spine, seems like a big miss.
The action takes place at Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, a boarding school which the Civil War has left partially deserted.
Overseeing the school is Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) who walks the line between retiring queen unable to fully accept that her once opulent kingdom is now in ruins and and an all capable, all seeing entity who everyone turns to in times of trouble.
Just think of her as the Dumbledore of the Deep South.
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Ensconced within the school with her is Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) a sad, lonely teacher from a well to do family who has somehow found herself trapped in the slow, sweltering hell that is the abandoned school, and the five remaining students.
Most notably the sulky, coquettish Alicia (Elle Fanning), a tween who I'm guessing would be more at home posing for brooding Instagram selfies that practicing her French and tending an overgrown garden while a war rages around her.
The Ground Hog Day day grind of endless lessons and laundry that the women are caught in is infiltrated by Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) a wounded Union solider who is bleeding out quietly by a tree when he is discovered by Amy, one of the young Farnsworth girls who is out picking mushrooms.
The ladies, deciding to the the "Christian" thing, bring John into their home and tend to his wounds, allowing him to remain hidden and convalescing in the school's study.
What begins as something of a male fantasy, being taken into the care of a swarm of beautiful young women who all begin vying for your attention, quickly turns into a gruesome, painful nightmare for the Corporal.
Now, I'm guessing that small story breakdown didn't have you giggling into your phone, so you're probably still wondering what has the audiences laughing so much.
The humour stems from the power flip between the male and female characters and the heightened tension that comes from the entire plot taking place within the pressure cooker of emotions that is the secluded southern mansion.
The biggest laughs come from the cast of young students, all who very much resemble a cluster of otherworldly fairies, the kind you'd only find in the very oldest books, the ones that were printed before it became frowned upon to terrify children into submission.
The girls all appear charming and innocent when trying to win favour with John, but quickly turn vengeful and powerful when he begins to threaten their home and their way of life.
There are scenes in The Beguiled that are so beautifully shot, they could be just as at home in a museum as they are in the film. And on the flip side, there are also scenes so bloodthirsty and graphic that you might want to cover your eyes if the breaking and hacking apart of human limbs offends your sensitivities.
And on the subject of the film's humour, Sofia Coppola herself has some definitive thoughts on that.
My second viewing of The Beguiled included a Q&A with the lady herself. Who, after answering a plethora of questions about the filming and the context of the movie, had one final thought to throw to the audience before the screen came alive.
"Oh, and it's OK to laugh," she said reassuringly to the waiting crowd. "People have been asking me about that."
So I saw The Beguiled for the second time tonight. Partly because the official Sydney premiere featured a lot of pink champagne, but mostly because it also included a live Q&A with director Sofia Coppola. Just as beautiful and funny the second time around #TheBeguiled #sydney #premiere #nicolekidman #sofiacoppola #kirstendunst
Her words make a lot of sense because at its heart, The Beguiled is more a black comedy than a thriller. Teaming with witty dialogue and well timed glances as much as it does with female repression and torturous suspense.
When it comes to The Beguiled you'll come for the thrilling period masterpiece that it is, but you'll stay for the impish and hilarious little girls who will ensure you never look at a plate of mushrooms the same way ever again.
The Beguiled is in cinemas Australia wide right now.
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