Directed by Charlotte Colbert and written by Colbert and Kitty Percy, new supernatural horror movie, She Will tells the story Veronica Ghent (Alice Krige) who after a double mastectomy, goes to a healing retreat in rural Scotland with her young nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt). However, it turns out that retreat are on the grounds of ancient witch-burnings, leading to some strange events.
Soon Veronica discovers that the process of her surgery has opened up questions about her very existence, leading her to start to question and confront past traumas. The two develop an unlikely bond as those mysterious forces give Veronica the power to enact revenge within her dreams.
As an artist, Colbert has used her creative experience for She Will, creating beautiful and disturbing imagery to tell a far deeper story that goes beyond ancient grudges. We spoke to her about meeting Alice Krige for the first time, strict schedules and… erm… slugs…
How did you first get involved with She Will?
Basically, one of our exec producers, Ed Clarke, read a script by Kitty Percy and was like: ‘I think this would be a good fit with Charlotte – these guys can develop it, it’s mad enough.’
Then I read the script and I was like God it’s got so many themes in here that I’m already sort of exploring within my practices as an artist – like trauma, dreams and the porous relationship we have to the real history of persecuted women. And it had this nice relationship at the core of what evolves to be a sort of mother/daughter relationship.
Then we developed the script together and brought in lots of elements of nature and the power of the land and how to reclaim one’s wounds and make them one’s own.
I guess the story evolved with everyone who came on board, and everyone bringing different elements. Their own experiences and stuff to the journey.
It’s this amazing thing where it’s like a magnet, it attracts certain types of characters. It’s been an interesting rollercoaster!
What was it about the script that really pulled you in?
I think it really does anchor around Veronica’s character. The thing that I felt was interesting was the idea of a singular experience connecting to a group experience. In a way, this woman’s singular trauma is being fed into by a past trauma in the land. I thought that was interesting and perhaps quite truthful about how we all relate to each other and things in our past and our future.
Veronica is at the very centre of She Will. How closely did you work with Alice Krige to develop the character?
Alice is just amazing. The minute she read the script, she really responded to it and wanted to meet. We met at this coffee shop and I remember because she was wearing this amazing kimono, and she had her hair dyed a specific way and now knowing her well, I know that that was very much Veronica. Which was really perfect.
She’s just the most incredible human being as well as being an incredible actress. I completely adored her and she was really amazing in trusting me and giving me that space for us to be able to navigate the whole journey through the filming. We talked a lot and we talked to other people who had had similar experiences as well with mastectomies. Alice has this amazing story, which I think really informed the character – one of her close friends who had a double mastectomy said – telling her about the character – that she has to be a phoenix rising from the ashes. That was really interesting and it’s something that we held on to, this sense of defiance, just reclaiming hurts of the past, whether it be from when she was a child, or now in this present moment.
What was your biggest challenge when shooting the film?
It was probably time because we had such a tight schedule to shoot. In an ideal world, we would have had way more time. Hopefully, if I get to make another one it will be less tight but Alice really took it in her stride. She’s like ‘okay we’ve got an hour for a levitation scene’ [haha]. She’s incredible, but she’s also incredibly strong, morally, physically, philosophically and spiritually. It was really interesting working with her.
I’ve got this image of her in the forest where she does Tai Chi, and in the process of doing the Tai Chi… it felt to me like magic. She was really conjuring up energy around her and you feel her strength growing. She’s so beautiful, she’s in her 60s, she’s extraordinary looking, and there’s this incredible energy that she manages to muster, it’s nearly like an aura around her.
There is a lot of nature imagery in the film, why did you decide to go down that route?
We shot in Aviemore, which is in the north of Scotland, and in Scotland there were actually 3000 people (mostly women) who were accused of witchcraft and condemned for it. It’s a lot, and it feels that there’s some notion that permeates the land in a way. There is this history, a bit like how a fossil carries your DNA from centuries ago and if you could communicate with that fossil, you would unleash all that power within you from millennia of accumulated narratives.
So I think that that was the connecting point. This peat, this black earth, that contains the history of the land there, the history of the women, and the history of the trauma that lies there. That taps into [Veronica’s] own trauma and sort of relates to her.
Then there’s this character played by Kota Eberhardt. In my mind she’s, first of all, the only kind character, but she also transcends all the binary notions of male and female and she tries to go beyond and perhaps give us hope that things can be different. Fingers crossed.
[The nature elements] were all in the script, even the slugs! I’m obsessed with slugs because they’re neither female nor male. There are also these amazing visuals, they mate through the head, they’re just incredible creatures. So, I felt that semantically they felt like a unifying of all the elements.
What does the title of She Will mean to you?
It can mean different things but in my mind, it’s a feminine push or energy. A will, a determination!
What do you want for audiences to take away from the film?
I was with Malcolm [McDowell who also stars in the film] a second ago, and he was asked this question and he said, for him, it’s the empowerment of an older actress. And putting these figures of huge talent on screen and not hiding them away. I thought that was really interesting. I guess, for me, it’s very much also just questions and a drop in an ocean of a big debate that needs to happen. And that is happening. Discussions around power dynamics, discussions around history, legacy, anger, hurt, all these kind of things.
She Will tackles a lot of themes – age, beauty, loneliness, trauma – what is it about horror that makes it a good platform to explore such themes?
It’s interesting. Perhaps it’s an element of freedom – aesthetic freedom and aesthetic boldness that’s allowed a bit more with that. Perhaps also the genre of horror is more truthful to the experience of trauma because it is experienced as a horror. Perhaps there’s something in that…