How Horror Film ‘She Will’ Reframes the Scotland Witch Trials With a Contemporary, Feminist Twist

Filmmaker Charlotte Colbert and star Alice Krige tell TheWrap how the ghosts of the past can provide “hope for the future”

Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight release.

Set in the Scottish highlands — at the site where women, men and children accused of witchcraft were burned at the stake 300 years ago — director Charlotte Colbert’s “She Will” reflects on this this historic massacre and enables her characters to reveal the truth of their own narratives.

Described as a gothic fairy tale, the feminist horror film follows an aging movie star named Veronica (Alice Krige) and her young nurse, Desi (Kota Eberhardt), as the two voyage to a healing retreat in rural Scotland after Veronica undergoes a double mastectomy. The surgery, paired with the legacy of violence remembered through the retreat’s omnipresent ash, forces Veronica to confront her past traumas as she builds a strong bond with Desi.

For Colbert, who co-wrote the film and here makes her feature directorial debut, “She Will” represented an opportunity to examine how the story of the centuries-old executions were told and how the historical moment is remembered. Given the movement to pardon thousands of women who were accused of witchcraft in the 16th through 18th centuries, Colbert was preoccupied by the “constant necessity of not taking the past as a given, but remembering this is a story that we keep having to retell.”

“Generally [historical moments are] told in such a way, because the person in power is determining the narrative that we follow,” Colbert told TheWrap. “If we don’t redefine things as we evolve as humans, and as we grow, then there’s no hope for the future.”

Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight release.

In the film, Veronica undergoes a similar reclamation process as she confronts her past and seeks the truth of a trauma that left her broken — an assault perpetrated by a director when she acted in a movie as a young girl. When Veronica learns that the same director — who is now lauded as a filmmaker and awaiting his knighthood — has plans to recreate the film they worked on together and is currently casting young girls, she is at “end of the road of that trauma,” according to Krige.

Instead of revenge, Veronica wants the truth. “We have to revisit the stereotypes, that somehow it was Veronica’s fault, what happened,” Krige said. “And it wasn’t. She was a child. But she has completely taken on board that somehow it was her fault.”

In this vulnerable state, Veronica forms a bond with Desi, giving the motherless daughter a mother and the daughterless mother a daughter. While both women have their fair share of trauma and pain, Colbert notes that Desi uses her hurt as “as an outreach to help and to go out into the world.”

“In my mind, Desi’s character, played by Kota, is always the hopeful one in some ways, who transcends binary thinking,” said Colbert. “She, herself, confronts her past hurts but also helps Veronica to learn how to love and open up.”

Krige echoed Colbert’s insights, noting that Desi stood as a “hope for the future.”

“I haven’t seen it in film before that bridges a potential generational divide of a young person reaching out to a much older, angry, hurt, cut-off person and offering them hope,” said Krige. “They both discover parts of themselves that they had lost or didn’t even know were there by the end.”

The film grounds itself in a motif of fire and ash, drawing a connective thread between the vicious burning of people centuries ago and the memory that remains of them through the ash still present in the earth and mud. “There’s something so incredibly violent about the idea of burning someone…because it’s an attempt at complete annihilation,” said Colbert. “But…they’re still there. And they’ve actually seeped within this land. And they’ve stayed with us.”

As Veronica experiences through her dream-like states throughout “She Will,” the ash exists as a “psychological collective” through which power can harnessed.

“This force is kind of like a fossilized force that’s lacking in strength,” said Colbert. “[It] is there to somehow support or unleash itself through someone they feel needs to support – and that can be imagined or it can be real.”

“She Will” will be available in theaters and on demand July 15.