A Good Woman Is Hard to Find (2019)

What if Ken Loach directed a home invasion movie? That’s not quite the way this brisk, brutal thriller plays out, but it’s a useful shorthand. British writer and director Abner Pastoll — Road Games (2015), but not the Ozploitation classic — combines housing estate social drama with a high tension scenario and the odd splash of impressive gore to produce a pretty great little thriller that never pushes the boundaries too much, but nonetheless delivers everything it promises in spades.

There are no limits to a mother’s love.

The set up is simple: after the murder of her husband, young Belfast mother Sarah (Sarah Bolger) struggles to provide for her two young children, Lucy (Macie McCauley) and Ben (Rudy Doherty) — the latter has even slipped into a kind of psychosomatic muteness following the death of his father. With even buying their meager groceries proving a challenge and her own mother, Alice (Jane Brennan), urging her to give up custody, things are looking grim — and they only get grimmer when drug dealer Tito — Andrew Simpson, who also featured in Pastoll’s Road Games — crashes into their lives, having just ripped off the most terrifying gang in their squalid manor, and demands sanctuary.

This isn’t a million miles away from Jason Reitman’s 2013 romantic bomb Labor Day, which saw a hunky Josh Brolin similarly cannonball into the life of Kate Winslet’s widowed single mother, with dreamily romantic consequences. Here, however, there is nothing dreamy or romantic in play. Tito, a garrulous charmer with the morals of a sewer rat, offers to give Sarah a cut of the money he’ll make selling the drugs he’s stolen if she’ll shelter him. Sarah demurs, but the money will give her and her children much needed breathing space. Meanwhile, the gang, led by grammatically florid, violently horrid Leo Miller (Edward Hogg) is circling, aiming to put Tito in the ground and not particularly fussed about who they have to hurt to find him.

Page turner

Screening at Monster Fest 2019, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find sits more squarely in the thriller rather than horror genre, and while there are moments of deliciously unsettling gore — a sequence where a dead body is dismembered is one for the ages — the film is more concerned with character-derived drama than anything else. It’s a startlingly unsentimental look at poverty and motherhood and the crushing burden of dealing with both at the same time, and while we do get moments of heightened hoodie horror violence, what lingers in the mind is just the grim, relentless weigh of Sarah’s day-to-day life; while Tito is a wild card arrival, he’s really just a symptom of the social injustice that pervades the film’s milieu.

The whole thing hangs together thanks to some sterling work by Sarah Bolger, The Lazarus Effect (2015), who is 100% convincing as the embattled but never embittered Sarah. While quickly sketched, she is nonetheless a fully formed character, a proud, determined woman who is driven to do right by her kids but is undercut by crippling loneliness, lack of support, and grief and doubt over the death of her husband (local rumor says he was a drug dealer killed in a deal gone wrong, but Sarah swears otherwise).

There’s a new woman in town.

File A Good Woman Is Hard to Find under ‘social horror’ if you like — it’s interesting to contrast it with this year’s Joker, a dark film which also deals with issues of social decay and oppression, although in a more bombastic and less astute manner. In the broad strokes, Pastoll’s film does nothing particularly original, but its close observation of the modern welfare life means it’s got more going on under the hood than you might expect.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Travis Johnson

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find was screened as part of Monster Fest 2019