What are we looking at, though? This film debuted on Shudder, a channel specializing in horror, and it does boast a number of shocking images pertaining to the sadistic violence of the girls’ community, which crushes any behavior that doesn’t conform to their rigid norms. But there are relatively few instances of supernatural horror or more earthbound sorts of suspense, and in the end the movie feels more like a harsh, somewhat masochistic lesbian love story set in-period, with body horror closeups of mangled flesh and nasty wounds and scars. This critic doesn’t usually get hung up on the kinds of definitions, but it’s not hard to imagine a viewer coming away from this film thinking that if it’s horror, then “Silence” and “Midnight Express” must be, too.
The story begins with the title character (Stefanie Scott from “Insidious 3”) in jail and blindfolded, being interrogated by a local constable (Daniel Pearce) about her crimes. We travel into the not-too-distant past and learn the details of the case: Mary began an affair with her family’s maid Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman of “Orphan”) after a book of Sapphic woodcut illustrations was brought into the house. The idea that a book could impel a particular sort of sexual desire to take root where none otherwise existed is ludicrous, but such are the thought processes of these communities, where the most important thing is reinforcing patriarchal hierarchies of control through intimidation and terror.
There’s a bit of a community bait-and-switch going on, with the girls being rather elaborately blamed for the sinister energies coursing through the place even though they genuinely haven’t done anything wrong (at least by 21st century secular Western standards). The bulk of the film’s story is about what happens to the couple after Mary’s parents (Carolyn McCormick and Michael Laurence) seek “correction” from the community’s matriarch (a terrifying performance by Judith Roberts, first seen by genre buffs in “Eraserhead”).