Review by Joseph Fayed
The Marsh King's Daughter is an adaptation of the 2017 novel of the same name. Acclaimed for its suspense, the film had high standards to achieve. Unfortunately, it is adapted into something tedious and not distinctive enough to set itself apart from the plethora of psychological thrillers that don't have their own source material.
A man known as the Marsh King (Ben Mendelsohn) has been holding Helena (Daisy Ridley) and her mother captive for Helena's entire childhood. They lived off the grid until they managed to escape. Now as an adult with a child of her own, Helena is horrified to discover that the Marsh King has escaped prison. She assures herself that she will do anything to prevent him from inflicting more pain on her or carrying it over to her daughter.
If the screenplay is any indication, the novel itself must be airport bookstore quality. The biggest problem is that Helena is simply unremarkable as a protagonist. While her actions directly impact the story, Helena lacks any sort of appeal to make her a character leading a film. Her past is laid out for the viewers in the opening sequence, and from there, nothing she does directly unearths anything we didn't already learn about her time with the Marsh King. There isn't even an in-depth look at how she processes her feelings either. While nothing can top the "cool girl" monologue from Gone Girl, something of that liken would have made up for the lack of anything.
Daisy Ridley tries her hardest with what she's been given to work with, but to no avail. Her character feels very lost with the trauma she has dealt with. That doesn't mean she has to experience an everlasting anxiety attack, but a more nuanced approach would've been appreciated during the build up to her and the Marsh King being reunited at long last. Ben Mendelsohn plays his creepy character with as much conviction as any other creep who lives in the woods. As a separate entity, what little we see of him carries the film forward. The interactions between the two leads, both as adults, drag the film forward. In terms of pacing, this is why it would've been a smart move to scatter the flashbacks of Helena as a child throughout the film, as it could have benefited from a tonal shift heavily.
The Marsh King's Daughter was beaten to the screen by another wildly successful literary adaptation last year with Where the Crawdads Sing. Daisy Ridley won't be generating the same buzz Daisy Edgar Jones did for her role in the latter. This poorly-paced misfire tries to check off every cliche it can before it reaches its unsatisfactory conclusion, which feels more like the season finale of a network police drama that is only still on the air because it is popular with the over-50 demographic. Perhaps this screenplay needed more insight from the author herself, or maybe it should have kept its previous fate as an overpriced novel you read while sitting in an airport terminal.
The Marsh King's Daughter hits theaters on November 3.