THE NIGHTINGALE – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s 2014 horror fable The Babadook was a spooky tale of a single mother whose home is invaded by a sinister spirit. But in her second feature, The Nightingale, the monsters are white human males of privilege who commit horrifying atrocities in order to maintain their presumed superior status. Set in early 19th-century Tasmania, the gorgeous primordial surroundings are in stark contrast to the constant acts of ugliness and brutality primarily committed by British soldiers against convicts from England and Ireland who are constantly debased and abused. Women and native Aborigines are placed on even lower rungs, meant to serve the needs of the ruling military class.

Make no mistake. Like most tales of vengeance against those who harm the loved ones of others, this is sheer discomfort cinema as Kent keeps lobbing violent acts at us – the main source being Sam Claflin’s ambitious, corrupt and sadistic Lieutenant Hawkins. At least she provides us with an odd-couple pair to root for in the form of Aisling Franciosi’s Clare, an Irish convict who sings like a bird, and her native guide Billy (Bykali Ganambarr) as they hunt down Hawkins and his minions together in order to get payback for the crimes he committed against them. At first Clare demeans Billy, calling him boy and bossing him around. But these second-class citizens soon form a bond over their common enemy.

While Kent makes her case again and again with nasty retributions and abrupt outbursts of violence, the only relief is a brief spate of humanity that arrives late in the film. If anything, The Nightingale is proof that humans have always had the capacity to horribly oppressed others and deny them their rights in order to feel superior — a world that still lacks justice for all.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Nightingale is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for August 9, 2019

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a senior editor for the online awards site Gold Derby. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.