FANTASIA 2017 review POOR AGNES



2017
Directed By: Navin Ramaswaran
Starring: Lora Burke, Robert Notman, and Will Conlon
Written By: J. Gordon Ross

Put simply, an unreliable narrator is a storyteller whose trustworthiness is questionable. An audience following a tale created by a compromised character is left unbalanced and questioning almost everything they see. POOR AGNES is told from the point of view of a delusional young woman (Burke) who has a less than firm grip on reality. She is vicious and cruel but oddly poetic in her personal philosophy. Through voice over and monologues performed to the camera we hear Agnes justify her indefensible actions. She kidnaps, kills, and rapes with no sense of remorse or regret. The only things she seems to feel are utter satisfaction and self-righteousness. She has pure conviction and lacks any self-doubt, a luxury not often granted to the emotionally stable.     

Early in the film, Agnes crosses paths with Mike (Notman) a private investigator following up leads on a cold case. She uses sex as a distraction to capture Mike and begins the process of physically and emotionally breaking him. This process is designed to erase any sense of self that Mike once had and transform him into a compliant concubine. Through repeated physical torture and emotional brow beating Mike will eventually become a man who will longer recognize his name.

The film jumps between horror and comedy without ever winking at the camera. The threat and tension of the piece are never undercut in the name of laughs. I wouldn't go as far as to call the film an outright horror comedy, but it is a terrifying film with several funny moments. The levity of the film is situational and absurd. When Agnes and Mike are having arguments that feel more akin to a lovers quarrel than a fight between a captor and her captive it's hard not to laugh. 

Burke is incredible as Agnes. She gives the character layers and nuance that are often lacking in similar films. The ability to swing back and forth between charming girl next door to deranged psychopath in the same scence without mugging or feeling false is rare. 

Ross made an interesting choice in swapping the traditionally male and female roles. We never see a woman in peril screaming for the help of a stronger man. In fact, most gender cliches of horror films are dropped or subverted in POOR AGNES. Agnes is in control of every scene and given permission to chew up the scenery. Women are rarely given the opportunity to play roles like John Doe, Hanibal Lector, or Norman Bates. Most genre filmmakers relegate their women to the shower scenes or crying victims who out smart the villain in the final scene. 

While the exploration of hostage situations and torture are nothing new for the horror crowd, POOR AGNES manages to explore it in a way I've never seen before. The film is unnerving and utterly watchable. I didn't know anything about this little Canadian gem going into FANTASIA and it has become one of this year's big surprises. A great film that I highly recommend.