Martin Koolhoven’s BRIMSTONE focuses on the lifelong blood-feud between Liz, a mute woman (Dakota Fanning) and a brutal preacher (Guy Pearce) that lays waste to many a life before it comes to its final, bloody conclusion. From the first moment that we see Liz recognize the new Preacher that has stepped up to the podium in the church she and her family are worshipping at in their frontier town, it is clear there is “history” there and not of a good kind. Liz’s vocation as a midwife goes awry upon his arrival due to a tragic birth out of her control, and the preacher takes it upon himself to punish her and her family. However, as we soon learn, as the film steadily goes back in time before bringing us to the present again, the preacher has other motives driving him to act so cruelly, beyond the one he states with fevered proclamations of scripture.
BRIMSTONE falls into that fairly recent sub-genre of western/horror hybrids, much like BONE TOMAHAWK. It hews pretty closely to traditional western themes of moral retribution, the pursuit of justice from the victimized against those that wield their power or upper hand unforgivingly, and pioneering spirit that prevails against the harshest of life situations or cards that are dealt. However, it also adds a much more brutal and bloody tinge to the proceedings. If someone is going to be killed, they may also be gutted and choked with their own entrails. If “justice is to be handed out, it may be by literally cutting one’s tongue out. John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart never crossed the path of horrors such as the kind that Guy Pearce’s insanely devout preacher metes out.
Beyond that, the film doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, when it comes to the formula. Yes, it is unforgivingly violent, and frequently – literally perverse, and twisted, but ultimately the strength of the film falls on the two leads, Fanning and Pearce, as well as a supporting turn by “Game of Thrones” star, Kit Harrington, as a gunslinger who becomes an ally to Liz, during an earlier chapter of her life. All three weird their star-power with plenty of charisma and screen presence worthy of a classic Hollywood studio film, and that is what the film smartly plays as its winning hand when it is all said and done, delivering the fire and brimstone.