My notes on The Beguiled take a hilarious unhinged uptick two-thirds of the way in, which I think tells you what this movie does. It goes off. It begins like Sofia Coppola Does Picnic At Hanging Rock, which is already pretty interesting on its own, and then act three begins and everything goes completely buckwild. Admittedly, Picnic At Hanging Rock also gets weird af, but while there it’s more of the surreal sun-drugged afternoon daymare school of unsettling, The Beguiled is being startled awake in the middle of the night by a frantically poised Nicole Kidman with bloody surgeon’s hands directing Kirsten Dunst in ringing tones: “Bring me the anatomy book!”
My notes: “Nicole I am screaming!!!!!!”
The Beguiled really does start off so much more gauzy, which is what makes the transition such a treat. The cinematography is on serious point, all the women in these pale antebellum dresses glowing like powdery moths against a dark, smudgy, decaying Virginia. It’s the waning years of the Civil War, and the society the handful of girls at Miss Martha’s finishing school are still listlessly practicing to join is as doomed to demise as this old mansion is to succumb to the encroaching vegetation, that only ever seems to get closer to the porch each time they cut it back.
It’s all mist and thick slanting sunlight through these huge, huge tress dripping with moss, a white dress spilling over the legs of a girl artfully yet carelessly resting on one of the lower branches — and into this slowly stifling household stumbles an injured Union soldier, an enemy, a man, his arrival like dropping a stone into a pool. Or like dropping Colin Farrell into a pool, it’s more exactly like that. Immediately every woman in the house wants to sleep with him, which is a sort of plot I usually find tedious, but this time it’s Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled and she makes it worth your while. And weird.
This movie is, speaking generally, kind of like Phantom Thread. A gradual then exponentially increasing veer to the most high-key end, a wealth of powerhouse female performances, ravishingly beautiful, and terribly funny in its obscure morbid mode. The Beguiled is also like Phantom Thread in one very specific way, and if you’ve seen them both you do not need me to go on because you shrieked at it immediately.