I Wrote my First Movie Review While Giving Birth to a Camera. It has followed me ever since. Please don't mind the Mess.
I write this review of Gwen for you using nothing but some charcoal by the waning flicker of the candle. The evil organization known as the Pacific Gas and Electric Company That Kills People has decided to shut our power off for the second time in 2 weeks (just look it up online if you’re in another part of the country or in another part of the galaxy) in the interest of “public safety”. I am churning out this review before we go dark. Who knows if I’ll ever see you again. Since we don’t have power and might not have adequate refrigeration and access to food, it won't be long before it’s the Donner Party up in here.
If I don’t see you again, just know my final thoughts were of you, dear reader ______ (your name here).
I never stopped thinking about you. I never stopped loving you. I never stopped looking over your shoulder as you _____ (white person’s name here) shopped on Etsy.
It’s actually appropriate I’m writing review without electricity since the movie being reviewed takes place right before the industrial revolution somewhere in Wales.
I’ve managed to find some sustenance. Enough to keep my energy up while I write the review. If I pass out because of lethargy….
Sorry. Was losing consciousness. I am so out of it. Don’t know…if I can…finish.
Gwen opens with a lingering shot of our teenage heroine Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) sitting on a rock while the wind blows her hair. As mentioned before, this takes place sometime before the industrial revolution so there’s no electricity which means there’s no fun. You can tell it’s old-timey because the men have long sideburns and the women have hand-sewn bonnets.
Really. There are way more shots of people sitting on rocks in this movie than are necessary. Nobody sits on rocks in real life as much as people in Gwen. I know there’s nothing to do, but my default mode wouldn’t be to sit on a rock.
Anyway, between rock-sitting Gwen is babysitting her younger sister Mari (Jodie Innes).
Gwen, Mari and their mother Elen (Maxine Peake) are trying to scrape by running their family farm. Gwen’s father is off fighting in some war and Elen has made it her point in life to keep the farm going strong until dad comes home from the war.
We’re pretty sure dad isn’t coming back.
Many of the old white men of the village/quarry want her to sell the farm. Elen refuses.
Everybody in the audience wonders what the L happened to the other ‘l’ in Elen.
Gwen and family have just learned that all their neighbors have died of cholera. So that pungent smell over where the Griffiths used to live is burning flesh. Pay no attention. Nothing to see here except burning corpses.
Elen is growing increasingly manic. Well, she was always manic. Now her behavior has taken a new level of silent and disturbing. At least to Gwen.
Gwen has noticed her mother staring at open flames then talking to them.
Gwen has also noticed noises outside. When she leaves to investigate, there’s nothing. Gwen and Mari are so hungry they could eat a bite of charred neighbor. Yum.
Mom has started to cut herself.
Mom has also started to have seizures.
Gwen now takes it upon herself to take care of the family, because there’s something seriously off with Elen. Gwen knows there’s something physically wrong with mom, but senses something else she can’t put her finger on.
They can’t because they have to wait for dad to come home.
Gwen has to deal with another problem because now all their sheep are dead.
Dead sheep. Missing dad. Mom going nuts. What’s a teenage girl to do?
What Works With Gwen
- A heartbreakingly fragile lead performance by Eleanor Worthington-Cox. If you don’t believe her, the movie falls apart. You believe her. You feel sorry for what she has to go through during the course of the movie. You wish she could just sit on rocks all day.
- The only true source of scares during Gwen comes from Maxine Peake as the unhinged Elen. You’re never sure if what Elen is suffering from is natural or…unnatural. Either way, you’re most of the time caught off guard by anything Elen does or says.
What Doesn’t Work With Gwen
- Gwen is often compared to 2015’s The Witch, mostly because it’s a slow burn horror with barely a jump scare. If you weren’t a fan of The Witch, you’re not going to enjoy this at all. I’m sure there’s some PG-13 scare-free Blumhouse movie you could watch instead.
- The movie’s 84 minutes long, but you get the feeling you could shave 20 of them off if you cut the shots of wind-blown hair, mountains, and rocks in half. Writer/director William McGregor is clearly a Terrence Malick fan, but the last time I was scared of a rock was when it was going to crush me like in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Gwen is folk horror and its folksiest. A good story about the evil that resides in us all that will reward those with patience but bore those with short attention spans. Recommended, but enough with the rocks already.