Poor Agnes Review
Poor Agnes is a 2017 thriller about a serial killer and her next victim form an unexpected relationship.
Recently, a little seen film starring Teresa Palmer called Berlin Syndrome featured a young woman who meets a nice man but after a bit of very satisfying sex, ends up a captive in his house, eventually falling into a disturbing relationship. It’s a troubling film and one of many where women fall terrible victim to men. Perhaps this is why director Navin Ramaswaran choose to give it a flip, having a woman as the captor, torturing a man, though we can trace some of that origin to Farrah Fawcett‘s 1986 harrowing Extremities. Poor Agnes is not an easy film to watch, a nihilistic foray into suffering and mental abuse that while distressing is nonetheless affecting.
Agnes (Lora Burke) lives alone, far into the recesses of wide open countryside, tucked into the folds of an abyss few people venture. She is a serial killer, a sadistic murderer of men. She has a head wrapped in plastic in the cellar freezer. She attends torture recovery meetings and takes notes, probing victims about their experiences. She keeps fit and healthy and ever on the search for men to end. One day, she gets a visit from a man who claims to be a reporter, researching the death of Agnes’ old boyfriend from a decade earlier. Turns out though that Mike (Robert Notman) is actually a private investigator, and once learned, she seduces him before chaining him up in the basement where she begins a torture experiment that rages on for weeks and months, slowly turning Mike into a corrupted participant.
It’s purposefully hard to get behind Agnes. We are never given any insight into what happened to her, what motivates her, or how she became so wretched, and perhaps there is no reason to know. It’s really not the point. Anges is who she is, a dark, menacing creature of insatiable horror, condemned by her mental instability into believing she is a vehicle for God while holding providence over Mike, who evolves into a sort trained dog almost literally unable to doing but her bidding. This puts him in a precarious position late in the film with the introduction of a third component, one that tests his loyalty to her and more so, his very sanity.
Poor Agnes has a deliberately provocative title, meant to induce a sort of mixed emotional investment in her and the film. There’s no liking Agnes. She’s a despicable beast and like any horrifying villain, we somehow find ourselves drawn into her depths, even as we try to claw our way out of it. Burke is ferocious, giving Agnes a terrifying presence and it’s nearly impossible not to be pulled into her nightmare. It’s a jarring performance, raw and incendiary.
While the film is relentless, it’s not gruesome, more mentally violent than physically so. Agnes is a corrosive, horrifying character and Mike tragic, his descent troubling. The movie stumbles just a bit with its early setup and there’s a few moments that lose credibility in service to the story, however, it recovers and builds to a bracing second act and finale that give Poor Agnes incredible punch. We tend to celebrate madness in film, especially killers, with the likes of Se7en‘s John Doe among a long list of others, and the ones that do it right are always careful to remind us they are indeed a monster. Agnes is a monster.
Poor Agnes Review
Director(s): Navin Ramaswaran
Actor(s): Lora Burke, Amy Marie Wallace, Robert Notman