Director Charlotte Colbert makes her feature directorial debut with horror-thriller She Will, which was draws on the true stories of women who were burned at the stake for witchcraft in 1700s Scotland.
But She Will reimagines the women’s trauma into something more meaningful. Out today in select theaters and on-demand, She Will stars Alice Krige as Veronica Ghent, a former child actress recovering from surgery whose nurse, played by Kota Eberhardt, takes her to a Scottish art retreat to heal. There, Ghent finds the strength to resolve a trauma inflicted on her in childhood by a film director played by Malcolm McDowell. But she doesn’t rediscover her power just by breathing in the fresh Scottish air — she finds it by encountering the spirits of 18th-century women who understand what it means to be tortured and abused.
The beautiful forest and natural scenery in She Will was shot in Aviemore, Scotland, which is not far from where the very last witch-burning took place in the British woman in the mid-1700s, according to Colbert.
“The place we shot in Scotland is where the last woman to be tried for witchcraft was actually from, and they were a mother and daughter, Helen and Janet,” Charlotte Colbert told MovieMaker. “They were slightly eccentric and suffered for it. There’s something in this idea of burning someone to try and annihilate them completely — make them disappear.”
According to The Scotsman, the last woman to be burned at the stake for witchcraft was named Janet Horne, and she the symptoms of her mental illness resemble what we know today as Dementia. Her daughter had a deformity on her hands, and Janet was accused of using witchcraft to cause it.
The plot of She Will, co-written by Charlotte Colbert and Kitty Percy, finds Ghent at a spiritual retreat in Scotland where the land is said to be enriched with the ashes of the women who were burned there. The horror part comes in when Ghent begins to see visions of a woman whose face is covered in an iron torture device referred to as a “witch’s bridle” or a “scold’s bridle.” The ghostly specter’s skin is covered in burning hot tar.
According to Colbert, the film’s horrific effects are actually historically accurate to what women who were accused of witchcraft really experienced.
“They’re literally the most terrifying thing ever,” Colbert said of scold’s bridles. “There’s a piece of metal in the mouth and, yeah, even for chatty wives. I mean, it’s pretty nuts.”
When Colbert read Percy’s original script for She Will, she was immediately taken by the idea of a female character transforming her narrative from trauma to transformation — and healing traumas endured by women of the past at the same time.
“I really love all the elements that she had in there, like turning your scars into something that becomes your strength,” Charlotte Colbert said, “whether it be your own personal ones, or even sort of communal histories, in a way, that can be reinterpreted, reclaimed, and changed. There’s something interesting in that.”
She Will comes out in select theaters and on-demand on July 15.
Main Image: Alice Krige in She Will courtesy of IFC Midnight