Religious hypocrisy looms large in this revisionist western, with a glowering Guy Pearce encapsulating a depraved Dutch Protestant clergyman way, way beyond salvation. From the moment he spouts a fiery sermon about the infernal torments of hell, we begin to surmise why mute Dakota Fanning, wife of a local rancher, is so frightened of him. The full backstory linking these opposites of innocence and evil soon unfolds in writer-director Martin Koolhaven’s expansive frontier saga. And the further back in time it gets, the ickier events become, as we visit the Reverend’s biblically-inspired justification for the satisfaction of his perverse desires.
With sundry whippings, tongue-cuttings – and worse! – this Euro-financed oater goes further than Hollywood might have ventured in depicting the horrifying punishments inflicted on women in a society where men viewed them as property. It’s a point worth making, and elfin Fanning is certainly a resilient protagonist, yet as the mayhem escalates you wonder whether the film-makers are guilty of a double-standards by criticising the male urges to perpetrate such iniquities then making sure we get a darned good look at the results. A classy cast give this the air of a prestige production, but it’s a disreputable exploitation flick at heart.