Review: GWEN is An Atmospheric Dark Tale That Cuts Deep

God bless, Shudder. The AMC fronted streaming service has become a de facto haven for horror fans and are picking up new original movies on top of also hosting a slew of classic content. One of the said new films is Gwen, from England’s own William McGregor, and it’s just further proof that Shudder has their fingers on the vein of what horror fans are looking for.

Taking place in the rural farmland hills of Wales during the Industrial Revolution, Gwen is the eldest daughter of Elen, her father having abandoned the family. A strange and unlucky string of accidents begin the plague the family, accompanying Gwen’s nightmares, and her and the townsfolk start to wonder if her ailing mother has any hand in this…supernatural or not.

McGregor is obviously a man of atmosphere, which is a clinch necessity in Gwen as we don’t get a whole lot of action or conflict until really the last fifteen minutes of the movie. It never feels like a waste or a drag, however, as McGregor creates a tense and moody environment that in its best moments absolutely drips dread. Applause should be given to cinematographer Adam Etherington as well, capturing foggy hills and icy farmland with a terrifying tilt. McGregor is also the lone scribe behind the film and it’s clear that he’s picked up on a lot of beats from gothic cinema, from past and present. While it’s clear to see some inspiration drawn from Hammer films, Gwen feels distinctively in vein of the movies of the current era, tracking with slow reveals, building tension, and questioning the reality of what is actually occurring versus what appears to be happening.

Eleanor Worthington-Cox is our lead and carries the bulk of the movie on her back. While he do get a sympathetic support from the compassionate doctor, played Kobna Holbrook-Smith, and sparse apperances from a truly venomous pair of villains, portrayed by Mark Lewis Jones and Richard Harrington, this movie really is led by two powerful performances in Worthington-Cox and Maxine Peak as Elen. Peak slowly transforms over the course of the movie, physically and mentally, and it’s her portrayal of a mother with best intentions but limited means that allow us to question the supernatural possibilities that border the scenes with pressing urgency as the runtime continues. Worthington-Cox is a sympathetic and powerful lead, who runs through a gamut of emotion, it’s ultimately heartbreaking to watch as her only parental figure slips out of her grasp after already losing her father.

With echoes of The Witch, Shudder’s Gwen is a taut little thriller that offers some truly frightening moments, both ethereally and morally. McGregor has a deft hand with an eye for moody landscapes and a handle on the beats for a solid horror entry, and it will fun to see what he tackles next. Gwen succeeds in no small part thanks to the duo of female leads, Worthington-Cox and Peak both tragically showcasing frailty and inner strength, and they help anchor the movie in reality while also allowing it to float into the supernatural.

Gwen is available from Shudder and RLJE films now on DVD and blu ray.