January 12, 2024

THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER is Almost a Thriller

2023 / 109 min
Review by Mr. Bonnie😽

The Marsh King’s Daughter features knock-out performances by its two stars, as well as an intriguing story. But considering the premise, the film is seldom as tension filled as we’d like it to be.

As a child, Helena was raised off the grid by survivalist father Jacob (Ben Mendelsohn) and submissive mother Beth (Caren Pistorius). She has a special bond with Dad, who taught her how to hunt and survive. But when a lost stranger shows up, Jacob kills him. Beth uses the opportunity to escape with Helen. It turns out Jacob had originally abducted Beth two years before Helena was even born and has been holding them both captive.

Years later, Helena (Daisy Ridley) has since adapted to the real world with a husband and daughter of her own, but doesn’t reveal her past to them. Meanwhile, Jacob (now infamously known as the Marsh King) escapes during a prisoner transfer, but is later presumed dead after remains are found in a fiery crash. Knowing Jacob’s mantra of survival at all costs, Helena suspects the death is a ruse, that her father is alive and coming for her. Which of course sets up a scenario where Helena uses her own skills to protect her daughter, while Jacob plans to take them all back into the marshy wilderness as one big happy family.

Those salmon don't stand a chance.
On paper, this is a great story with a lot of potential for intense external and internal conflict, such as the protagonist’s uncertainty over her feelings for the man who taught her everything she knew, but is also a murderer who held her captive without her knowledge for years. While some of those themes are explored and the film indeed has a few gripping, intense scenes, the overall narrative only moves in fits and starts. It’s downright poky throughout the middle act, not helped by dull exposition related to Helena’s relationship with husband Stephen (Gerrett Hedlund).

On the other hand, Ridley and Mendelsohn are excellent in their perspective roles. The latter, in particular, delivers a wonderfully unnerving performance, making Jacob someone we grow to despise, even though his love for Helena is never in question. The confrontation between these two characters is kind of nerve-wracking, mainly because Jacob remains masterfully manipulative, though the climax and denouement end up being a little underwhelming.

While the execution leaves a little to be desired, The Marsh King’s Daughter is watchable, though never as intense or thrilling as it should be, The film is ultimately saved by its characters, performances and a couple of well-timed bursts of violent action.


THE ART OF SURVIVAL: MAKING THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER - A pretty good 20 minute featurette, which includes interviews with director Neil Berger and most of the main cast.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Neil Burger.


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