The synopsis of POOR AGNES on imdb goes “A serial killer and her next victim form an unexpected relationship”. That description of the movie would be enough to scare away many an audience but writer James Gordon Ross and director Navin Ramaswaran have concocted quite the movie.
The film opens with a few incidents involving Agnes (Lora Burke). She is shown suffocating a victim by placing a plastic bag over his head. The audience sees her pawning the victim’s gold watch and silk tie. When the pawnbroker uses the ‘f’ word at her, she retorts by throwing him an insult. He reduces the price of the gold watch from $200 to $150 which she takes, as she is broke and has no choice. The segments tell a lot about Agnes and the route the film is taking.
Credit should be given to director Ramaswaran for the feat of having his audience root for as unlikeable a character as a non-repentant serial killer. He achieves this (feat) by several means which are interesting to note:
all the characters around her are either seedier or nastier than her, not only her victims
she is all by herself and one usually respects an independent woman
she is funny and she cracks the best jokes
she is smart
she knows what she wants and does it
she is neither annoying nor irritating in any of her conduct
This might be the reason the film is called POOR AGNES (instead of say NASTY AGNES) which makes the audience want to root even more for someone needing sympathy.
The first half of the film establishes Agnes’ personality while introducing her love/sex relationship with Mike (Robert Notman). Mike is the private detective hired to find out more about a missing person a year ago that Agnes did away with. After Mike hits on her, she kidnaps him but lets him go free in an odd love relationship.
One might imagine the film going out of steam after the first half. But the film’s pacing is good and new events keep the audience interested throughout the entire film. Agnes draws the reluctant and unsuspecting Mike into her evil deeds. She kidnaps a previous trick, Chris (Will Conlon) and forces Mike to do away with him.
Credit goes to Toronto actress Lora Burke for an excellent performance as the serial killer/madwoman. Robert Notman is also convincing as her reluctant partner. Everything else in the other departments from music, to sound to sets to cinematography are to be commended.
POOR AGNES doe not slag in any way. Despite the rather outrageous plot, the story and characters are kept believable. Humour (especially black) is also injected particularly in the segment where Agnes attends a tortured victims support group.
Director Ramaswaran and writer James Gordon Ross make an excellent team. The film won the Best Canadian Film Prize at the 2017 Fantasia Film Festival.