Marsh King's Daughter, The (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Jan 18, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Marsh King's Daughter, The (Blu-ray Review)


Neil Burger

Release Date(s)

2023 (January 2, 2024)


STXfilms/Black Bear Pictures/Anonymous Content (Lionsgate)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B+

The Marsh King's Daughter (Blu-ray)

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The Marsh King’s Daughter is a suspense thriller set mostly in the marshes of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Based on the novel by Karen Dionne, the film centers on the bond between a father and his adoring daughter, who live in a remote cabin deep in the marshland.

Young Helena (Brooklynn Prince) can’t understand her mother, Beth (Caren Pistorious), who always seems sad and mad at her. She’s far more connected to her dad, Jacob (Ben Mendelsohn), than to her mother and looks only to him for guidance. She follows him everywhere. He calls her “Little Shadow” and teaches her how to survive in the wilderness. By age 10, she knows about all the plants in the area, can shoot a rifle accurately, and can field-dress a deer. Helena has become strong by dealing with the realities and brutalities of nature. To commemorate both Helena’s achievements and failures, Jacob injects tattoos all over her body with a pointed stick dipped in ink. He has conditioned her never to show pain or cry.

In a dramatic scene, a man on an ATV shows up near their cabin to ask for directions out of the bewildering marshes, Helena’s mother grabs the girl and climbs onto the vehicle with her, desperate to get them both back to civilization. The girl fights back until her mother knocks her out. When she come to, they’re in a city police station and her father has been arrested. Helena is told that her mother had been kidnapped and the ATV was her first chance to escape. Initially skeptical, Helena eventually comes to terms with the reality.

The scene shifts to twenty years later. Helena (now played by Daisy Ridley) is happily married and a caring mother. She has closed herself off from the past. Not even her husband Stephen (Garrett Hedlund) knows anything about the grim events of her childhood. One day, Helena’s warned that Jacob has escaped. Subsequent unsettling incidents compel her to find him, utilizing the skills he taught her.

Director Neil Burger has crafted a tense, suspenseful melodrama about a seemingly magical childhood spent in the wilderness. The early scenes show the devotion of a young girl to her father, both parent and teacher, who exposes her to the beauty and the harshness of nature. All is idyllic, except for glimpses of a silent mother who peers around doorways and never smiles.

Ridley is excellent as the adult Helena, a woman whose past comes back to haunt her. With a piercing expression and subtle gestures, she conveys Helena’s conflicted feelings toward Jacob, the pain of recognizing troubling truths, and fear for her own child. When she sets out to find Jacob back in the marshes of her childhood, she faces a dangerous reckoning.

Mendelsohn shows both paternal affection and cold discipline. His Jacob can be tender with young Helena and yet murder someone without a second thought. This complexity is the crux of the film’s drama. We never know which aspect of Jacob is about to reveal itself. As a child, Helena adored him. Now, as an adult having learned the truth about her past, she’s wary of his cunning and manipulation. Mendelsohn’s stoic expression emphasizes Jacob’s enigmatic nature.

Brooklynn Prince is exceptional as young Helena. Only ten years old when she made the film, she completely inhabits the character. There’s not an iota of artifice in her performance. She makes us believe that Helena loves the life she was born into. Her blind acceptance of every danger and privation reflects how Helena looks upon Jacob. To her, he’s not only father but mentor, confidante, and best friend.

The Marsh King’s Daughter was captured by director of photography Alain H. Kuchler digitally using Alexa cameras and vintage Panavision lenses. According to director Neil Burger, “strange old lenses” were used for specific shots, including a pinhole lens for hallucination sequences. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The picture quality is excellent, with the marshlands, forests, river, waterfall, and rocky cliffs beautifully detailed. The tattoos on Helena’s body look primitive. Mendelsohn’s hair is grayer in later scenes to suggest many years have passed. A police station is crowded, contrasting markedly from the solitary marshlands that Helena has called home.

The film has several soundtrack options: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; English Descriptive Audio; and Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. Natural sounds dominate the first part of the film—the howling of a wolf, a woodpecker, grasses blowing in the breeze, the rustle of leaves, a waterfall, and the rushing rapids of a river. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. Other prominent sounds include an ATV’s motor, gun shots, footsteps in shallow marsh waters, car and truck engines, and police sirens.

Both Blu-ray and DVD discs and a Digital Code on a paper insert are contained in this release from Lionsgate. Bonus materials include the following:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Neil Burger
  • The Art of Survival: Making The Marsh King’s Daughter (19:31)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:26)

Audio Commentary – Director Neil Burger discusses differences between the book by Karen Dionne and the film adaptation. The plot is about a person’s past coming back to haunt the present. Burger talks about each of the principal actors, their background, casting, and why they were chosen for their roles. In the film, we gradually come to understand that Jacob is dangerous. The picture presents a “lyrical unity of man with nature.” Burger was looking to make a movie set in the unspoiled world of nature, which can be both beautiful and merciless—a “Garden of Eden with problems.” Jacob and Helena have a strange relationship with Beth. Helena doesn’t question Jacob’s tattooing her. She simply accepts it because, to her, he’s like a god. Though the setting is supposed to be the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the film was shot in several locations in Ontario, Canada. The production design and props are critical in establishing a remote lifestyle. The goal was to make scenes look primal. Burger provides details on specific equipment used in making the film, indicating that different lenses produced different effects. To suggest the passage of seasons, snow and breath vapor were added digitally. Research on the history of abuse was instrumental in focusing the film’s vision. Burger tells several anecdotes about the making of the film, including some unexpected visitors when Daisy Ridley walks into a pond at night. Movement in the water around her turned out to be beavers. A major undertaking was getting cast, crew and equipment to remote locations. Sometimes the only way to get heavy equipment where it was needed was by helicopter, since ground access would have been extremely difficult and time-consuming.

The Art of Survival: Making The Marsh King’s DaughterThe Marsh King’s Daughter is described as a “unique, powerful film with compelling characters” that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Producer Teddy Schwarzman identifies the movie’s core theme—“Are we stuck with our legacy or can we free ourselves from the past?” Director Neil Burger, actors Daisy Ridley and Ben Mendelsohn, and key crew members contribute their thoughts about the story, locations, difficulties filming in remote areas, and themes. Helena believes she grew up in a perfect existence off the grid. She wants her father to be proud of her. Jacob is a god in his own environment, living under his own rules. He’s poisoned Helena toward her mother by marginalizing Beth and keeping most activities between himself and his daughter. Helena is completely trusting of Jacob. Older Helena comes to realize that her early life was far from idyllic and even tragic. Daisy Ridley has a subtlety of performance so you know exactly what’s going on in Helena’s heart. Actor Ben Mendelsohn infuses dark humor into his dialogue. A wilderness expert was on hand to make scenes look realistic.

Film has the ability to take the viewer to exotic places and show the effect those locations have on characters. The Marsh King’s Daughter shows the power distant marshlands have in contributing to Helena’s identity. The story’s drama derives from how this view is shattered when she responds to the harsh truths that are revealed. Rich in suspense, the film is a gripping thriller.

- Dennis Seuling