Fanny Lye Deliver’d is the latest (well first seen at the 2019 London Film Festival) edition of folk horror that works best when it focuses on the topics of gender than the actual horror.
Fanny Lye (Maxime Peake) lives a quiet Puritan life with her husband John (Charles Dance) and young son Arthur. Her simple world is shaken to its core by the unexpected arrival of a mysterious young couple (Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds) in need. Events quickly escalate, changing all of their lives forever.
While Fanny Lye Deliver’d have issues (we will get to that) Maxime Peake shines, playing a character who was at the beginning accepting of her life. As she is introduced to a possible new way of living, she becomes alive for the first time. When threatened with losing what she has just gained in her life, she is willing to take drastically dark action to keep it. Peake can give the audience a portrayal from her that we would not have seen before, or at least from what I can remember. It is a revelation of performance and with some hope, she can find more complex roles such as Fanny as she excels in them. It is a compelling performance and not the only one in this film.
Charles Dance has to tread a careful line here. He has to be authoritative, yet also relatable. A man who will do what he has to protect his family, to survive for them. He cares about his family, he simply thinks that he is right with everything and no questions should be asked on the contrary. He is a man who knows only what he has been taught and anything new to that is wrong and must be dealt with. We root for him to save his family, or do enough to allow Fanny to assist him. If only he would change his ways Fanny may have found something salvageable with him.
Clay throws in a multitude of ideas to his audience with it primarily focusing on patriarchy. Dances, Alan dominates the family despite his injury and Fanny having to do all of the work. He controls when tasks are done and reads religious teachings to his family, they acquiesce to his will as they have no choice in the matter in this time. Men control this world (well in the 17th century) and women can only do as they say, so when the young couple come into their lives Fanny sees how much care and equality Rebecca has in comparison to herself. She wants that and she is tantalised by it, to leave her cuffed life from John and to take her son and be free, finally.
But, before we can even get that far. We learn that our young couple is wanted by authorities. Their beliefs are beginning to not only sway Fanny but John’s young son Arthur. When forced to leave Thomas and Rebecca swiftly take control of the house and the family in a home invasion angle. This is not the last switcheroo we get in themes to this film and as interesting as it is, it does feel as if Clay is throwing everything at the wall and hoping it sticks.
Each section isn’t given enough time to work, for example for the first half an hour we are to dislike John because of his views, then when he tries to defend his family, we want him to get his family to safety, maybe he will change his ways thanks to this attack, but now he stays the course and then again the third act creates another issue that your head begins to hurt from working out if we should care for John. As Fanny by the end of the film has next to little care.
There are several issues with the story, but that should not distract from the visuals we are presented with. The film is positively dripping with the atmosphere here, with the 35mm camera utilised so well. We are given so little to look at in this sparse production that what we do see has to be as detailed as shots linger continually. The mist surrounding this little house and farm causes an uncomfortable feel to settle in very early on.
Fanny Lye Deliver’d challenges audiences patience with its continual switches in tones and why so much is done with so little, it does feel as if at least two films have been forced into one. This is such as shame as the world-building and atmosphere built has us compelled to know more. The cast’s performances draw you in, yet the story doesn’t fully make it a rewarding horror.
Horror, Thriller | UK, 2019 | 18 | DVD, Digital HD | Available now | Vertigo Films Releasing | Dir. Thomas Clay | Maxime Peake, Charles Dance, Freddie Fox, Tanya Reynolds