Review: Rugged revenge story 'The Nightingale' leaves a mark

Jennifer Kent follows up 'The Babadook' with this intense story of retribution

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

An extremely unsettling tale of revenge with horrific depictions of rape, murder and infanticide, "The Nightingale" cuts bone deep and is not for the squeamish. 

But make no mistake, writer-director Jennifer Kent is in total control of this tale of an Irish convict seeking vengeance against the British soldiers who took everything from her. Nothing in "The Nightingale" is gratuitous, everything is there to tell the story Kent wants told.  

Aisling Franciosi in "The Nightingale."

Aisling Franciosi gets put through the wringer as Clare, a 21-year-old prisoner of British officers in early 1800s Tasmania. She's overdue for her release, but is kept around by leftenant Hawkins (a cold and effectively detached Sam Claflin), who taunts her and rapes her at his will.

When Hawkins and his cronies murder Clare's husband and kill her baby in front of her, it sets off a long chase through the wilderness where Clare is aided by an Aboriginal tracker, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr).

Through Billy, Clare learns about nature and man's place in it. Their at-first icy relationship warms over time as Clare learns to disregard her prejudices against native people and understand her role in the world around her. 

Kent, in her follow-up to "The Babadook," tells a different kind of horror story here, one that's as rugged and emotionally raw as any film since "The Revenant."

Where "The Babadook" tapped into fears of motherhood, "The Nightingale" dials into unadulterated rage, while also telling a story of tolerance and understanding. It's a balancing act Kent manages gracefully, and "The Nightingale" is a story that's not easy to shake.

'The Nightingale'


Rated R: for strong violent and disturbing content including rape, language throughout, and brief sexuality

Running time: 136 minutes