‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ Review: Daisy Ridley And Ben Mendelsohn Lift A Terrifying Wilderness-Set Father-Daughter Story

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In 2018, Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie starred in a wilderness drama called Leave No Trace in which a father taught his daughter to live off the grid well out of view of “civilization.” I thought of that as I viewed the new thriller The Marsh King’s Daughter, but for some reason this story kept reminding me more of 1962’s terrifying suspense drama Cape Fear, as well as its Martin Scorsese-directed 1991 remake. Maybe it is just because of the remote setting and a key character who comes back and sparks terror in the hearts of a family that didn’t know what they were in for.

Jacob (Ben Mendelsohn) is known as the elusive Marsh King, a man who kidnaps a young woman named Beth (Caren Pistorius) and takes her to the remote marshlands of Michigan, where he torments her and becomes father to their daughter Helena (Brooklynn Prince). For the next 12 years Helena knows no other life, has no idea of the circumstances of her family, resents her mother who is traumatized, and looks up to her father who basically teaches her everything he knows about survival in a barren environment.

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Finally he is caught and the mother and daughter join society, where eventually years later we meet the older Helena (Daisy Ridley), who despite learning the truth about her dangerous dad still is haunted by him even as she is now happily married to Stephen (Garrett Hedlund) and has a daughter of her own, neither having any idea of her hidden past as the daughter of the notorious Marsh King. When after 20 years in prison word gets out that Jacob has escaped and may be coming back to find Helena. the sheer terror begins, secrets are revealed, and Helena’s unbreakable will and abilities come into play in a big way.

Director Neil Burger (Divergent, Limitless, The Upside) demonstrates a keen talent to push all the right buttons here, expertly building the suspense levels and keeping us on edge with a sharp assist from Elle Smith and Mark L. Smith’s effective adaptation of Karen Dionne’s bestselling novel. The setting is atmospheric and the key remoteness of the location is well chosen both for the film’s first scenes as well as its last act. Young Prince and Ridley are both terrific sharing the role of Helena, convincing us of this girl’s unique abilities under the tutelage of a father who has a unique hold on her at different points in her life. Ridley is especially good in this kind of rugged role, and is matched by Mendelsohn who never overplays the scary guy Jacob actually is, thus making us fear him even more. Among the cast is the always reliable Gil Birmingham playing a man who became a key part of Helena’s life after he father went to prison.

The Marsh King’s Daughter doesn’t really have much more on its mind than just serving as an effective thriller, but it achieves its goals thanks to an outstanding cast that makes it all work, and a filmmaker who navigates it all in style.

Producers are Teddy Schwarzman, Keith Redmon and Mark L. Smith.

Title: The Marsh King’s Daughter
Distributor: Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions
Release date: November 3, 2023
Director: Neil Burger
Screenwriters: Elle Smith and Mark L. Smith
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Ben Mendelsohn, Garrett Hedlund, Brooklynn Prince, Caren Pistorius, Gil Birmingham
Rating: R
Running time: 1 hr 48 min

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