Directed By Neil Burger
Starring – Daisy Ridley, Ben Mendelsohn, Garrett Hedlund
The Plot – A woman (Ridley) with a secret past will venture into the wilderness she left behind to confront the most dangerous man she’s ever met: her father (Mendelsohn).
Rated R for violence
Having no prior knowledge of the novel of the same name by Karen Dionne that the film is based on, my expectations for “The Marsh King’s Daughter” were respectfully reserved, which paid off tremendously during an opening act with no shortage of scintillating surprises. This is when the pacing of the film felt the strongest because it not only took the time getting to know the characters and the unorthodox world that they live in, but also because the twists with the constructs of the story hooked my attention for the duration of the narrative, leaving me curious to see where it would all head after these opening fifteen minutes resolved so much of the initial conflict. As it turns out, the rest of the movie is a psychological drama about subverted abuse that takes some refreshingly authentic turns in the mental confines of our titular protagonist. Everything from the way she interprets echoing environments surrounding her, to interpreting cryptic signs in and around her house, speaks volumes to a victim who mentally never left the confines of her captor, in turn leading to a redemption arc that responsibly outlines that the ghosts of our past constantly haunt the outlook of our future. Then all hell breaks loose during the third act, where the film completely eviscerates its preconceived tone and genre for a survival thriller that earns every bit of its R-rating. Tonal inconsistency usually isn’t praised by me, however the film is most exciting when it deconstructs all of the rules, leading to a knock-down, drag-out climax that doesn’t even feel like the same movie that we’ve been watching for the previous hour, but in the best kind of way. Beyond the deviating beats of the storytelling, the performances from Ridley and Mendelsohn are outstanding while seamlessly replicating a father and daughter dynamic that feels lived-in with unresolved fear and adoration. Ridley easily supplants her best dramatic heft to date, combing through an emotional frailty and mental haze that unlocks many terrifying truths about her once ideal childhood, while offering her an overwhelming vulnerability that makes it all the easier to invest in her character, despite some strange actions that would normally wipe away the humanity factor of her design. As for Mendelsohn, he once again enacts an irresistible tangibility to his on-screen gravitas that makes him such a compelling force, with imposing will and advantageous psychology that echo many of the dark beats within the first man that many of us have feared in our fathers. Because of such, the film is absolutely at its best when this father/daughter dynamic is front and center at the film’s focus, and when combined with some moody radiance and immersive photography from cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler, really makes the Marsh feel like this parallel universe that hangs so far from our own.
Beyond so many uniquely gratifying elements to this film’s creative factor, the film beneath its surface is a superficial mess, full of glaring problematic instances that diminish its momentum in a series of returns that feel like they’re consistently working against it. This begins with the film’s overall pacing, but primarily during the second act, where this sluggishly sedated method of storytelling not only eviscerated the urgency needed in this film’s eventual survival action evolution, but also made my interests feel continuously tested by a combination of sloppy transitions between dual respective timelines and horrendous dialogue so on the nose and cinematically influenced that it feels geared towards the accompanying trailers. More on that in a second. As to where the entire second act remains in a sluggish haze, the essential conflict of the climax continuously feels rushed in the developments of the struggle, leading to a lack of long-term impact for the adversities that Ridley’s character had to overcome, which she often solved with ease. The aforementioned transitions never attempt anything ambitiously clever or seamless when deviating from one to the other, leading to these abrupt shifts that quite honestly took me a couple of seconds before understanding where we were at, during any particular moment, while rarely offering any kind of justification in the way it spoon feeds a familiarity of intention in exposition. Beyond this, the script is littered with a combination of plot conveniences and holes of logic so thick that it’s often difficult to go along with the events that transpire, especially from a third act that as previously mentioned, flies off of the deep end. It’s not enough that the film expects us to think that the town’s surrounding police officers are idiots, who don’t know how to properly search a crime scene, but it’s much worse when these contrivances in explanation lead to a requirement of ignorance from the audience that it is catering towards, like one such aspect involving a character who supposedly burns alive in an exploding car, but in the same breath the news brief mentions that a third passenger escaped and is currently missing. This is so obvious that there’s no way it can be passed off as a mystery, yet the script carries on with the charade, and for the next thirty minutes, we wait for the movie to catch up to where an already enlightened audience has figured the answer out.
“The Marsh King’s Daughter” is another example of literary original topping cinematic adaptation, especially with so much about it feeling undercooked and superficial to the point where events and interactions don’t feel authentic in the way they’re spontaneously manufactured. Daisy Ridley and Ben Mendelsohn work overtime to even make this a manageable psychological subvert, but it’s clear that the surrounding tide is continuously working against them, leading to another underwhelming, uninspired and unnecessary adaptation that fails at as many as three different genres for the price of one.
My Grade: 5/10 or D