Review by Sean Boelman
Sacha Polak’s Dirty God is a movie that is tremendously hard to watch, not because it shows anything particularly graphic or disturbing, but because it creates such an emotional connection with the character that it ends up being quite devastating. An effective and affecting character study, this film cements Polak as a talent to watch.
The movie follows a young mother who struggles to adjust to her new life after becoming the victim of an attack that leaves her visibly scarred. Polak makes the wise move not to linger on the attack itself, barely even referencing it, instead placing her emphasis on how the protagonist is overcoming her struggles.
At times, it seems as if Polak and Susie Farrell’s script is going to become slightly tone-deaf, presenting visual differences such as this as something to be ashamed of, but there is far more nuance to the film’s discussion than that. This is about learning acceptance, not only as someone looking at a person with a visual difference, but also for people with visual differences themselves.
This is an emotionally exhausting movie to watch, but given the difficult subject material, audiences will certainly understand why the story is built this way. That said, Polak doesn’t overwhelm the audience with these gut-wrenching moments, instead spreading them out to make the audience feel ups and downs.
With characters that are seemingly constantly making the wrong decisions, it can be a tricky line to straddle, but Polak is able to pull it off. It never feels as if we are supposed to pity the protagonist, but our sympathies always lie with her. The result is a connection that feels genuine and substantial.
Vicky Knight’s lead performance in the film is absolutely brilliant. The supporting cast is also solid, but this is very much Knight’s show and she owns it. The level of empathy and honesty which she is able to bring to the character is certainly impressive, allowing her to sell every bit of emotion in the role.
In a visual sense, simplicity is the name of the game here and Polak does a great job. It’s a quietly uncomfortable style that grabs hold of the viewer in unexpected ways. Polak doesn’t do anything drastic or flashy, but her subtle uses of color and framing have impacts that may not immediately be recognized but make a significant difference.
Dirty God is by no means a fun movie, but it’s really strongly-crafted and has a tremendously powerful narrative. Sasha Polak has made a film that is edgy without being shocking and meaningful without being condescending.
Dirty God opens in virtual cinemas on November 13 and VOD on December 15.