24th Jul2017

Fantasia 2017: ‘Poor Agnes’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Lora Burke, Robert Notman, Will Conlon | Written by J. Gordon Ross | Directed by Navin Ramaswaran

poor-agnes-poster

Sometimes, just sometimes, you sit down to watch a horror film and you wonder whether the people behind the film are as twisted as the film they’ve created. Poor Agnes is a perfect example of that. How J. Gordon Ross knows so much about the psyche of a psychopathic serial killer is beyond me…

Agnes lives in a state of dreamy contemplation, her powerful mind twisted by insanity. Her talent, discipline and willpower are impressive, but her lack of empathy has led her down a path of violence and murder. Mike Mercer is a private investigator researching a cold case. His investigation leads him to Agnes. He has no idea what he’s getting himself into. Once Agnes has him where she wants him, she captures Mike, keeping him locked in her basement. She then begins a regimen of brutal psychological torture meant to brainwash him into a state of total compliance. It is unclear whether he can survive. Chris Thomas is a computer technician who finds himself dating Agnes. He gets the sense that something is off with her, but he can’t imagine the world that he’s entering. She is surprisingly tender with him, until she grows bored. And then Chris is dragged into her nightmare as well.

Agnes, Mike and Chris form a bizarre family, Agnes lording over her captives with regal authority. No matter how grim things become, they always manage to get worse. Agnes finds it increasingly difficult to avoid the police as her crimes escalate. Mike struggles to keep his soul as Agnes’s lifestyle creeps into his head, while Chris is just trying to stay alive.

A bleak look into the twisted mind of a serial killer, Poor Agnes is, to put it bluntly, is the female equivalent of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – just as dark and just as powerful. Director Navin Ramaswaran’s film is an intriguing look at someone with no empathy and a strong desire to kill and torture, told from the killers perspective and with the involvement of the audience too. You see Agnes has a creepy tendency to talk to herself in reflections, all of which are caught squarely in the camera’s lens, which in turn feels like she’s breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience – making us privy to her innermost homicidal thoughts, and making us accomplices in her actions.

Canadian actress Lora Burke really, REALLY, convinces as Agnes – blending an assured insanity with a sultry sexuality that makes the character even more dangerous than a male equivalent. Much like Christian Bale in American Psycho, Burke revels in the madness of her character, yet here she also imbues Agnes with a depth that somehow – despite her evil actions – makes the audience feel for “Poor Agnes” (a title that could not be more apt). It’s a dichotomy that, alongside the fourth wall breaking style of film making, adds an extra layer to Burke’s character. Much more than in the aforementioned Henry or American Psycho, here we are wholly and intimately connected to a killer that we should, in reality, be terrified of.

But there’s also the story of her captive at play here too. Not only are we given access to the mind of Agnes, but also her victim Mike. We see how Agnes breaks his will, cracks his spirit and makes him as much a part of her twisted scheme as she is – eventually “helping” her to coerce and control another victim, Chris. It’s fascinating to watch the growth of the somewhat symbiotic relationship between Agnes and Mike grow and to see it morph into something more deadly. And when Mike is given freedom to leave? He’s still under so much control that he comes back “home” to Agnes!

Dark, bleak, tense and creepily erotic, Poor Agnes is a near-perfect example of genre film making that is let down only by the boogeyman-esque ending that belies the all-too-real story that has come before. Featuring stunning central performances from Lora Burke as the insane Agnes and Robert Notman as Mike, this is one serial killer film that should be held in the same regard as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, American Psycho and, yes, Hitchcock’s Psycho – only this fone proves that women can be just as deadly as men!

**** 4/5

Poor Agnes screened at the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival on July 19th.

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