Wounded Union Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) shambles into the prim and proper arms of a Confederate girls’ school led by Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). Being both of the opposite sex and on the other side of the war, McBurney introduces a spiteful divide into the simplistic tedium set up by our heroines—characters magnificently portrayed by Kirsten Dunst, Ella Fanning, and Oona Laurence.
A historical drama at face value, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled dances around as a dark fairy tale more than a strict period piece. Like a wolf wandering into a field of sheep, McBurney quickly realizes the advantageous position he finds himself in: The Confederate girls will not surrender him to the army until he fully recovers. Conversely, the girls (some minor) relish at the opportunity of a man barging into their mundane, conservative lives. Were it not for their conservative upbringing, every character would have been at each other’s throats just to win the charms of their male visitor.
The Beguiled plays like Snow White wandering into the clutches of the Seven Dwarves—except everyone’s horny and self-absorbed. At times, it skirts around as a period drama, as a fairy tale, or even as a pocketbook fantasy. Every swoon precedes a smug smile. Every caress precedes a disturbing grasp.
Reminiscent of Wonder Woman’s Themyscira and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the school is a world of its own, isolated from the outside world. Miss Farnsworth’s school is a fairyland, but one captured by evil forces and eldritch darkness. Covered by thick forestry and exotic mushrooms, it shrouds itself from the larger world it inhabits. Male soldiers march behind shadows, frosted glass, and towering fences. Gunshots and artillery fire are heard only in the distance, away from the relative comfort enjoyed by our heroines. The Beguiled is a rabid fever dream that snaps, burns, and froths should you stare long enough.
Safety is an illusion in this world as a darker monster lurks within every character’s hearts. The desire for sex, for diplomatic immunity, even for just a friend invites further betrayal and abuse. The Beguiled’s dream will bite, reminding its defiler that not all fairy tales end happily ever after. Victims are bitten, chewed, and spat out. Heroes are battered and broken—some losing more than just their dignity.
The Beguiled is a bloodbath of lust and desire. A topsy-turvy ride from start to finish, The Beguiled enchants you into its Venus fly trap of a fairy tale. It draws you in before it snaps itself shut, leaving you battered with its glutinous and treacherous ending.