Poor Agnes played here in Chicago at the Cinepocalypse Film Fest. Admittedly, I’ve never heard of director, Navin Ramaswaran before. Maybe because he hasn’t made a straight-up horror feature before (as far as I can tell). Whatever the reason, I had zero expectations going into Poor Agnes. I pretty much knew it was playing the fest and that it was probably about someone named Agnes in some capacity. Well, now I’ve seen it. I can confirm that it is indeed about someone named Agnes. But that’s not all I learned! And I’m willing to share. So read on, reader!
Agnes is a serial killer. That’s established immediately when we see that she has a head in her freezer. She does some serial killer-y things with her serial killer-y van, and life seems to be going as planned for her. Until, that is, she gets a visit from Mike, a private investigator looking for a missing person. After some standard PI questions and some flirting, the two have some animalistic sex in the kitchen. Agnes gives Mike a post-coital injection, and he wakes up chained to a wall in her basement. After some torture, some starving, and some Stockholm syndrome, the two develop a co-dependent relationship of sorts. This is uncharted territory for both of them!
First and foremost, Lora Burke plays Agnes perfectly. She charms and disarms with smiles and an everywoman ease one second and threatens and terrifies the next. She puts so much menace in her voice that the viewer is quickly convinced that Agnes isn’t to be fucked with. Her sociopathy is gritty and believable, leaving us convinced that she truly does not contain the capacity for empathy. It’s chilling! (this review is going great so far, right?) Unfortunately (uh oh), Burke’s character and performance is the only glue holding this rather shallow film together. We’ve seen the prolific serial killer before. We’ve seen the captive in an isolated rural home before. The film almost seems to be ticking boxes rather than making any real attempt at innovation or creativity. That’s actually a bit harsh. The film does portray a female serial killer – a minority amongst a minuscule minority – whose identity is not a twist or reveal. But several other filmmakers have given us the same thing. (Zombie, Waters, Jenkins, etc.) It also gives us the unusual relationship between Agnes and Mike. A Stockholm syndrome / Patty Hearst type of situation. (i don’t know the Hearst story. don’t bother correcting me if i’m wrong) That’s an interesting angle, but the progression is rushed and requires a lot of leaps of faith on the viewer’s’ part. It just doesn’t add up given Mike’s personality. And that’s the issue. Mike’s character isn’t as fleshed out as it needs to be for us to believe his transformation from regular guy to co-dependent automaton.
The Final Cut: Poor Agnes features a standout performance by Lora Burke, whose icy killer terrifies with believable inhumanity. Unfortunately, the story is uninspired and it’s central plotline is poorly fleshed out.