We are told in real life that it’s impolite to stare. You can sort of get away with it on a city bench in the park—“people watching” it’s called. But you can’t just walk up and stand a few inches from somebody’s face and glare straight at them—not if you don’t want to have the cops called on you, at least. And so thank goodness they invented the movies, the greatest voyeurism technique there’s ever been. The movies say, “Hey you wanna just stare at some person’s face? Go to town, baby!” And there are few people’s faces that I find myself wanting to stare at more than I want to stare at the actor Alice Krige’s face. So for that, I am happy we now have She Will, the witchy new thriller starring Krige out this weekend that is thankfully nearly just as obsessed with staring straight at Krige’s face in close-up as I am.
I think we all might recall the first time we saw Krige—for me, as it probably was for many people of my age, it was as the “Borg Queen” in 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact. That there was another film that knew what a gift it had with Krige’s imposingly regal cheekbones and black alien eyes, showcasing her even under all that ghostly make-up and all those strange Borg-cords to great effect. Talk about a first impression. That left a mark. I wouldn’t see Krige’s earlier turns until later on—notably her also-ghostly turn in John Irvin’s 1981 horror flick Ghost Story—and so admittedly the spectre of the Borg probably went on to infect all that came for me after.
But there remains even in her normal-person-roles something spectral and otherworldly about her, and older age has only refined that truth—whittled down the core features of that face, incandescent and gorgeously strange, miraculously one-of-a-kind. It unsettles even as it beckons nearer. Without meaning this as an insult in any way, shape, or form, it’s a face made for horror movies. Uncanny and awesome, in the awed sense. And recent roles like especially her one as the witch Gretel & Hansel but also the most recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre flick have smartly leaned into that. And now She Will, director Charlotte Colbert’s feature-length debut, keenly knows what a prize it’s got at its heart, and shapes its entire narrative around our desire to stare, stare, stare at Alice Krige.
Right up front She Will wisely has Krige playing a faded movie star named Veronica Ghent—I think it was Roger Ebert who once said that an audience had a hard time buying the similarly massive-featured Geena Davis as anything other than a Valkyrie come down from Valhalla? And so it seems right and fitting too when Alice Krige plays witches and movie goddesses—someone just a step outside of us regular folk. Her face demands it. There’s a bit of Norma Desmond to Veronica—although that could just be the turbans—and a bit of Greta Garbo’s “I vant to be alone” legend too. When we meet her she’s on a train heading through the mountains to a recovery center with her nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt), having just under-gone a double-mastectomy, so all Veronica wants is solitude, peace.
Calling to mind the newly-minted horror classic Saint Maud (which is also about an larger-than-life actress fighting cancer and her relationship with her caregiver) as well, neither of these films are interested in giving these women anything like peace. Once Veronica and Desi arrive at the secluded retreat, nestled in the dark and forbidding woods of Scotland, what they find instead is a bunch of irritating healer and healer-hanger-on types who knows exactly who Veronica is and seem hell-bent on interrupting her privacy at every turn. Veronica, comedically horrified, can’t get out of there quick enough, but the mysterious groundskeeper Jean (another fascinating face with Olwen Fouéré of The Survivalist and The Northman) tells the women to hang on for just a day, to see how it goes. And sure enough something in the air takes hold, and the two-some immediately find themselves changing…
She Will very much falls under the umbrella of Folk Horror, leaning as heavily as it does on the ancient bedeviled muds of its location—its mixed with witch ash, you see! But it’s ultimately more of a mood and a vibe than it is anything grander or ancient-seeming. It doesn’t quite tease its many strands together successfully, of witchcraft and survival and revenge against shitty men who look just like Malcolm McDowell (because they are played by Malcolm McDowell). The instincts are there—visually and aurally it’s pretty magnificently shot and sound-tracked—but for one those other guests remain a bit too cartoonish. Perhaps it’s just that I, like Veronica, want Alice Krige all to myself though. Everything else is a distraction! This movie’s almost there, but just let me stare at Alice for ninety minutes dammit. Get back to me with that, movies—then we’ll speak of masterpieces.