The Bellwether (2020) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Bellwether (2020) Review

Horrorific content by Christina Dee on November 16th, 2020 | Movie Review | Psychological, Meta, B-Horror

She's dangerous. She's a bellwether: a quiet leader who is well on her way to being her whole self. When they kidnap her to break her to make her conform, they discover that Joanne is something so much more than even she ever knew.

The Bellwether was directed by Christopher Morrison and stars Alex Reid (from The Descent).

To the outside world she's just a bookstore owner. The Conspiracy knows different.

The Bellwether Review

These days, we’ve certainly got our share of genre filmmakers out there thinking outside the box when it comes to horror. Sometimes you’re in the mood for something expected that follows a familiar formula, but other times it’s refreshing to be asked to think a little. The Bellwether is brought to you by writer/director Christopher Morrison and aims to be the latter. Starring a single actress (Alex Reid) – the first female-led film of its type to do so – this is an ambitious film, but does it deliver on its promises or fall flat on its face trying?

The storyline of The Bellwether centers on bookstore owner Joanne (Reid). When we meet Joanne, she’s just woken up to find herself trapped in a mysterious Gothic chapel. The chapel is equipped with a television screen an entity known only as the Conspiracy is using to show Joanne various images. These include moments from Joanne’s own life, every moment of which the Conspiracy claims to have recorded.

Among other things, she’s reminded of an abortion she had years earlier, not to mention adequately guilt-tripped for it. She’s also asked in various ways to repent her life choices, including through pleas from people she knows. Joanne is a bellwether – a female leader who needs only to realize her true self to tap into her power and potential. For this reason, she is a threat to the Conspiracy, hence her imprisonment and attempted persuasion.

As the film continues, things get decidedly odd, to say the least. Additional versions of Joanne appear in the church, each more radical and rebellious than the last. Joanne also seems to be pregnant again – a situation presented as a second chance to make the “right” choice on the abortion issue from before. What’s really going on here, and can Joanne overcome the challenges she’s facing in one piece?

One thing’s for sure. You’re unlikely to have seen a genre film quite like The Bellwether before, clearly Morrison’s intention. It’s certainly a noteworthy film, both for its single-setting, single-actor set-up and for the fact that you rarely see such feminist-leaning films coming from male filmmakers. The Bellwether also keeps you guessing from beginning to end, although how well it succeeds at what it’s trying to do is debatable.

Alex Reid turns in a fantastic performance as Joanne. She’s riveting, emotional, and extremely watchable. Morrison also makes creative use of the film’s pared-down setting, finding innovative ways to generate suspense and command the viewer’s attention, particularly in the first half of the film. It’s at the point where Joanne’s identity triplicates that things get harder to follow. The film’s effectiveness begins to break down a bit, and the underlying messages become repetitive. At times, The Bellwether appears to have bitten off more than it can chew. However, it also recovers quickly and brings enough to the table to keep the viewer engaged.

Worth Watching?

The viewer is left with the impression that The Bellwether could have significantly benefited from a little less shrillness as far as the message it’s trying to send and a few more surprises. It’s impossible not to appreciate the effort that went into this film, though, especially when you remember it’s the creative fruit of a male filmmaker and a diverse behind-the-scenes crew. The Bellwether makes you think, it makes you feel, and it opens you up to the possibilities of what horror can be when it’s left in capable hands. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it’s timely, meaningful, and creative enough to deserve a spot on anyone’s watchlist.

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