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Poor Agnes

There's a lot to be said for a quiet life -- a big house with lots of woods and plenty of space would be a dream come true for a lot of people. With a garden and a wood-burning stove you can even be more self-sufficient than most. It's also a handy setup if you happen to be a serial killer. In Poor Agnes, the titular character (Lora Burke) has just such a house, complete with a dark basement, and supports herself with the money and valuables she scavenges from her victims. It must be hard to hold down a regular job when you're a sociopathic killer.

But now her past has come back to haunt her. Private investigator Mike (Robert Notman) has been hired by the family of Agnes' long-missing high-school boyfriend to try to track him down, even though Mike tells them straight out he's almost certainly dead. It's their money to spend, however, and Mike intends to do a thorough job, which unfortunately for him includes an interview with Agnes.

Before he knows it, he's enjoying the hospitality of Agnes' dark basement, chained to the wall and helpless. He's a bad person, Agnes calmly explains to him, and he deserves to die. The sooner he admits that, the easier it will be for both of them. But for some reason she doesn't seem willing to shoot him with the very large shotgun she likes to carry around, despite clearly wanting him dead. No, this time Agnes decides it will be more fun to take his soul instead of his life.

Meanwhile, she wants someone who will adore her the way she deserves to be adored, and she's hoping that will be Chris (Will Conlon), who she's met through an online dating service. She's still very weird around him but much less violent, so Chris just thinks she's intense and is warily fascinated by her. When Agnes decides to do something special for Mike -- despite his being so awful -- the three of them collide in a way that's just as dangerous as you would expect, and Agnes might finally be in a situation that she can't kill her way out of.

This is easily worth four and a half out of five stars, Burke is coldly, frighteningly compelling as Agnes, who can go from playfully amused to homicidal in the blink of a soulless blue eye, and frequently does. Under her arbitrary rules and equally arbitrary punishments, Notman is utterly convincing as Mike, struggling to cling to his sense of self under the constant, very real threat that his captor poses, both to his life and his psyche. He's a terrorized victim and you can't help but feel for him.

And yet the title has a lot of truth to it. Agnes is an apex predator, regularly comparing herself to God. She knows she's a good person, however bad others are. But she often seems genuinely perplexed and frustrated that the world doesn't always work exactly as she wants it to. Mike sometimes explains to her what "normal people" are like, and now and then she seems almost wistful about not being one. The film enters her world and masterfully illustrates the workings of a deeply disturbed mind, and it's impossible to look away.

Agnes takes Mike prisoner. A shotgun is a girl's best friend.


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