(Written by Intern, Kali Coogan)
Need to heal some deep childhood trauma? A rifle and the wilderness is surely the key to a solution in tense thriller The Marsh King’s Daughter. Based on Karen Dionne’s bestselling novel, the story delves into an intricate web of family dynamics, redemption, and a haunting specter of a dark past. Daisy Ridley (Star Wars, Murder on the Orient Express) delivers a compelling performance as a resilient woman striving to lead a conventional suburban life, despite her unconventional upbringing in the marshlands. Although filled with captivating visuals, this setting is occasionally undercut by moments of predictability and cliché. Nevertheless, it remains a worthwhile experience for enthusiasts of action and thriller genres.
We commence with young Helena (Brooklyn Prince, The Florida Project, Home Before Dark, Cocaine Bear) sharing poignant moments in the wilderness with her father, Jacob Holbrook, played by the talented Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises, Animal Kingdom). What starts as an idyllic father-daughter bonding moment takes a sharp turn when Helena’s missed shot disrupts their hunting expedition, leading to a homecoming fraught with tension and unanswered questions. An unsettling background score, punctuated by jarring sounds of gunshots, imbues the initial family-centric scenes with an eerie, foreboding atmosphere. Early indication of the family’s unconventional lifestyle emerges as Jacob imparts stick-and-poke tattoos on his ten-year-old daughter.
A pivotal moment in the narrative occurs when Jacob embarks on a solitary journey, leaving Helena and her mother to encounter a mysterious stranger. Helena’s mother pleads to him for help, Jacob returns, and the illusion of a happy family is quickly shattered as Jacob’s seemingly paternal nature is quickly unveiled to be sinister. It is revealed that Jacob had abducted Helena’s mother years ago, dragged her into the marsh, and instigated the family’s distressing saga. Helena and her mother escape, while Jacob is arrested after trying to retrieve his daughter.
Subsequent events focus on an older Helena, portrayed by Ridley, establishing a family of her own while remaining haunted by the shadows of her tumultuous past. The news of her father’s prison escape dredges up old wounds as Helena attempts to navigate through this and what it could potentially mean for her family. While the premise promises an exhilarating thriller, the pacing decelerates after the gripping outset through awkward scene pacing and mostly clunky dialogue, only briefly regaining momentum in the climactic confrontation of Helena and her father.
The Marsh King’s Daughter offers a dramatic roller coaster ride, punctuated with elements of visceral gore and occasional instances of trite dialogue. Whether the dialogue’s origins lie in the source material or the screenplay by Elle and Mark L. Smith is unclear, but certain moments may elicit an involuntary eye roll. Breathtaking cinematography along with Niel Burger’s skilled direction thankfully make up for these unfortunate shortcomings. The picturesque marshland settings juxtaposed with the hustle and bustle of urban life evoke a sense of wonder and tension, drawing viewers into Helena’s emotional journey. Despite intermittent lulls and melodramatic dialogue, the film remains an engaging and action-packed experience. It may also tug at the heartstrings of those who, like the protagonist, grapple with unresolved familial issues.
Can The Marsh King’s Daughter protect her family from the King himself? Find out in theaters on November 3rd.