Poor Things Movie Review

Poor Things is what you would get if you smooshed together Re-Animator and Frankenstein with the soft-core European movies you used to get on SBS and a steampunk acid trip.

Over the Christmas break I did something I haven’t done for years; I went to the cinema. I didn’t realise how long it had been, but I think all the streaming options has made me really lazy! And what snapped me out of this was a recommendation from my best friend Jon who works in special effects. He has done a bunch of big movies (Bond, Pirates of the Caribbean etc.) but has never told me to go and see one of his movies, ever.

So off we went to the Rivoli in Camberwell and watched a movie that couldn’t be less Camberwell than almost any movie in the history of cinema.

Poor Things: What you’re in for

Emma Stone and Katherine Hunter in a still from the movie Poor Things.
Katherine Hunter, Emma Stone and the cast of Poor Things. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Poor Things unfolds around clearly mentally undeveloped Bella (Emma Stone) and her father figure Godwin (Willem Dafoe) who she calls God. The relationship is odder than a cowbell on a goldfish. You are left wondering what landed this beautiful naïve almost childlike creature in the hands of this mad scientist, and to begin with you can’t help but presume the worst.

The truth turns out to be the stuff of nightmares, but somehow in the acting and direction this movie isn’t a horror, it’s more endearing and funny.

As Bella, Emma Stone is as captivating to the audience as she is to all the men in her bizarre life. The script is a work of genius that is matched by the direction, casting, costume and CGI. I was totally transported to an imaginary realm where people are completely believable whilst being absolute fantasy.

Bella is a woman with a secret past: she attempted to take her own life due to a pregnancy. The film follows her retrieval from the river Thames and reanimation from brain death by Godwin transferring the brain of her unborn child to save her, and her subsequent growth into a person.

Being of great beauty, the men she encounters find her sexually attractive. But they fall in love with her because she is free, raw and essential. Completely beguiling and haunting with her long black hair, Frida Kahlo mono-brow and robotic body movements. I was smitten.

Godwin’s student Max (Ramy Youssef) is the first to fall under her spell. Initially assigned to monitor Bella’s daily evolution Max quickly goes from observer to part of the experiment. Godwin then proposes they marry – the only condition being they never leave.

Arriving on the scene to write up the pre-nup is Mark Ruffalo as Duncan. The lawyer is fascinated to meet the woman who requires such an unusual contract. He seduces Bella and takes her on a wild adventure and makes a great foil for her. They clash and bond over their hedonistic lifestyle. She breaks his heart.

The film is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, who I had never heard of but he’s done a well-reviewed movie called the Lobster starring Colin Farrell, who I used to hate but don’t mind now, so I’ll definitely watch that.

The Acting

Willem Dafoe in Poor Things. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

Emma Stone gives a brilliant performance as Bella, the resurrected woman. She transforms from a naive and innocent child to a confident and liberated woman, showing a range of emotions, expressions, and perfect breasts. She is funny, charming, and unpredictable, and I love the feminist angle where she becomes a sex worker who can’t believe you’d get paid to have sex and loves the work but breaks everyone’s hearts as she goes.

Willem Dafoe’s acting as Godwin, the scientist who creates Bella, is amazing. He is the embodiment of the mad scientist, from his patchwork face and gravelly Scottish accent, to the life support machines keeping him going. Eccentric, mysterious, and benevolent, but also with a dark side – getting de-sexed by your dad will do that to you. He is completely believable as an obsessive, who’s groundbreaking experiments and twisted sense of morality began by being the experimental muse of his own father. He treats Bella like a daughter, but also like a pet.

The Sex

Emma Stone in Poor Things. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

The film is chock full of sex because physical pleasure is part of Bella’s journey of discovery. She fast tracks her way from masturbation – making her feel ‘happy’ – through to losing her virginity. And even becoming a little bit addicted to getting pleasured. Overall, the sex scenes are tastefully executed and even in Camberwell no-one walked out or seemed put off.

Poor Things is a film that will shock, amuse, and entertain you. It is a satire of society, gender, and romance that challenges the norms and conventions of the genre. It is a film that will make you think, feel, and laugh and a masterpiece of black comedy. It’s also one of the best films I’ve seen in ages – even if my friend did do the special effects. If you’re looking for a memorable film experience, go and see it. Five out of five.