TADFF 2017: Poor Agnes

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Poor Agnes is a psychological thriller that puts the audience into the mind of a serial killer. Unlike the numerous psychopaths who routinely stalk and terrorize women, a staple in most films and television crime thrillers, the killer in Navin Ramaswaran’s latest film flips the convention on its head.

Living in a small rural town, Agnes (Lora Burke) leads a rather quiet life in the grand scheme of things. She does not have any nearby friends or family, and spends much of her time in deep in thought about worshipping deities. If it was not for the decapitated head in her freezer, one would assume she is ripe to be the victim and not the predator. When a private investigator named Mike (Robert Notman) shows up to question her about a missing person who she knew years earlier, Agnes sets her sights on her latest prey. Seducing Mike, or at least making him think he is seducing her, Agnes drugs and chains up the unsuspecting investigator for some torturing murdering fun.

Well that was supposed to be the plan.

It turns out that Agnes takes an inexplicable liking to Mike and decides to live out her own God complex by shaping Mike in to her own image. Forging an unorthodox domestic life together, Agnes uses her power of manipulation to push Mike towards embracing what it really means to be a killer.

In many ways Poor Agnes feels like two films fighting with each other for prominence. The first half of the film is a taut and darkly comedic study of an easily unhinged killer. In this section Ramaswaran plays with gender conventions in a riveting way. However, the film completely looses all sense of logic once Agnes begins to have feelings, as much as a heartless killer can have, for Mike. Just as Agnes struggles to decide what to do with Mike, Poor Agnes is frequently at odds with what type of film it wants to be.

At points it wants to be disturbing and cerebral, at other times its humour borders on being campy. Characters make poor decisions, say taking their eyes off someone long enough for them to sneak up on you from a different direction, which serves no other purpose than to get the plot from point A to point B.

The only saving grace in this film is the outstanding performance by Lora Burke. If there is any justice Burke will be a household name very soon. She is magnetic in the film, frequently keeping the audiences interest even when spouting some unintentionally silly lines. Her work is so good that it is a shame the latter half of the film never reaches her level of execution.

Despite its strong first half, Ramaswaran’s film stumbles greatly as it aimlessly wanders to a laughable, rather than chilling, conclusion. While it is worth seeing purely for Burke’s performance, the film will ultimately leave viewers feeling frustrated and disappointed.