The South African actress Alice Krige first gained notice in America in a sprawling “Tale of Two Cities” TV adaptation that broadcast in 1980. But her fate was ordained by her big screen debut.
In “Ghost Story,” she was the young woman once coveted young men, who now haunts the old men — Fred Astraire, Melvyn Douglas and John Houseman — who caused her death half a century before.
Although she has enjoyed a grand run in film and on TV in a great variety of roles, playing up her scary side has proven her secret to longevity.
“She Will” gives her a fine showcase, a horror movie without the frights, but with creepy, gloomy style to burn as any picture “presented by Dario Argento” would have to be. Charlotte Colbert’s debut feature is a reclamation of the lost art of montage. Extreme close-ups and images shrouded in fog of horrors of the distant past and recent surgery, witch burnings and filmmaking trauma blend together in chilling and gorgeous sequences that are a credit to the entire production, but particularly to editors Matyas Fekete and Yorgos Mavropsaridis.
You watch this film and never, for a second, do you forget you’re seeing art in motion.
Krige plays an aging screen diva, fresh off a double mastectomy, haunted by what happened on her big break film over 50 years before. As she travels in a private train coach north through Britain, it all comes to a head as news of a “sequel” to that long-ago film, “Navajo Frontier,” breaks.
Veronica Ghent has a hint of Norma “Sunset Boulevard” Desmond to her — aged, infirm and damaged. She travels with a personal healthcare worker, Desi (Kota Eberhardt), whom she barely tolerates.
“That haircut, ‘Anarchist with a Day Job?'”
Her trip is to a “solitary retreat” in the forests of Scotland, but which turns out to be anything but solitary.
Her “I don’t do groups” protests are to no avail. It’s off-season, and everybody else is there for the activities organized by this crystal pyramid-gazing seer and charlatan, given a playful, boozy touch by Rupert Everett. Some of his cultish followers, young and old, are big Veronica fans.
Holing up in a remote cabin on the site won’t save Veronica from their lectures and painting lessons.
But there’s something about the place, the soil and the vibe of it. They used to burn witches there, and perhaps that gave the earth curative properties. It’s certainly giving Veronica, and even Desi dreams.
Veronica’s nightmares have her confronting an old co-star, a screen icon constantly working into his dotage, headed for a knighthood and much more in the public eye than her.
Malcolm McDowell and Krige only have a single scene where they’re in the same frame together. But these two screen legends, horror mainstays in their later years, make it a juicy one.
Colbert uses her stars to great advantage and her film to weave a spell around them. Krige’s turn as Veronica has a valedictory air, a celebration of her skills at turning a two word phrase into as succinct a description of old age as any ever uttered.
“Any pain,” her caregiver wants to know?
As for the film itself, it takes predictable turns, lacking only the predictable shocks that usually accompany those to make it something more than merely chilling.
Colbert emphasizes “local color” as the ashes flaked off a wood fire are “witches feathers” in this part of Scotland and the only pub in town is the only place to get wifi and be plied with drinks and other exotic substances by the retreat’s hunky handyman (Jack Greenlees).
“She Will” is so well-acted and so visually sophisticated and striking that I didn’t mind the missing “terror” in all this. Like Krige’s horror debut, it’s more about the story than the “ghosts” — witches, in this case.
And if anybody deserves a smart supernatural thriller that pays homage to her horror bonafides, it’s the witch from “Gretel & Hansel,” the matriarch of the most recent “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the Queen of Jean-Luc Picard’s Enterprise enemies, the Borg.
Rating: unrated, violence, substance abuse
Cast: Alice Krige, Kota Eberhardt, Rupert Everett, Layla Burns and Malcolm McDowell/
Credits: Directed by Charlotte Colbert, scripted by Kitty Percy and Charlotte Colbert. An IFC Midnight/Shudder release.
Running time: 1:36