Following the Sci-Fi debacle, Voyagers director Neil takes a shot at redemption in The Marsh King's Daughter from Roadside Attractions. Elle Smith & Mark L. Smith pen the film screenplay, an adaptation of Karen Dionne's same-titled novel.
Helena Petterier (Daisy Ridley) enjoys an idyllic life with her loving husband Stephen (Garrett Hedlund) and their young daughter Marigold (Joey Carson). However, she is hiding a dark secret within that her father is the infamous Jacob Holbrook/Marsh King (Ben Mendelsohn), the man who kidnapped her Mother as a teen, and that she was the product of the relationship between captive and tormentor.
As a child, Helena (Brooklynn Prince) lived in the wilderness for 12 years, in a life carefully controlled by her kidnapper/father, Jacob, until he was caught and sent to prison. Clark, a kind-hearted man, took in Helena and raised her as his daughter. When the dangerous Jacob unexpectedly escapes from prison, Helena realizes the threat he poses to her husband and young daughter. She must confront her secret past and use the techniques the Marsh King equipped her with to hunt him down.
I watched the movie without reading the source material, as I am a fan of Daisy Ridley and Ben Mendelsohn. However, I was disappointed as the movie did not meet my expectations. The pacing of the movie was painfully slow. The script focused more on describing the marshland setting and atmosphere than advancing the plot. Although details and setting are essential in establishing the tone, they should never precede the story.
Furthermore, the characters felt like mere cardboard cutouts. The protagonist, Helena, lacked depth and failed to evoke any emotional connection from me. I was in the minority of fans who didn't mind Ridley's star-making turn in Star Wars and feel that she's gotten a bad rap. However, in this film, her actions and decisions throughout the story are often illogical and inconsistent, making it difficult to empathize with her struggles.
Similarly, Mendelsohn is here for a check and does nothing more than tap into characters he's played before. The supporting characters lacked depth and compelling backstories, leaving me indifferent to their fates. Garrett Hedlund needs a new agent because he is much better than playing a beta male.
The promotional materials for the film market it as being from the producer of The Revenant, but The Marsh King's Daughter fails to deliver any significant tension or suspense. Despite the potential for a gripping thriller, the story could not build any sense of unease or anticipation. The few attempts at suspenseful scenes fell flat, needing more intensity to leave a lasting impact. It felt like the director was going through the motions without truly understanding how to craft a compelling thriller.
The story's ending was a letdown, as the resolution felt rushed and left too many questions unanswered. The adage that the book is always better doesn't ring true. Case in point: Fight Club, No Country For Old Men, and The Outsiders. While I haven't read the original novel, I'm sure it's better than the film adaptation.
Final Grade: D+
The Marsh King's Daughter opens in theaters tonight