Stephen Whitty

Columnist, critic for national and international outlets. Author, lecturer, host.

Aug 29, 2021
1 min read

We Had It Coming is a film full of lonely places.

Wide stretches of empty Canadian highway. No-name motels with equally anonymous occupants. Places you pass through, without looking, without caring. People you don’t really see.

We Had It Coming demands we look, though.

Look into the eyes of women, especially – women pushed around by bosses and boyfriends, women abused by pimps and rapists. Women victimized, because no one will help. Women surviving, because what’s their other choice?

A fiercely feminist film, We Had It Coming was written and directed by a man, which can be a dicey proposition. How does a man film this story without giving into “the male gaze”? How does he resist most movies’ temptation to turn every female into a sexual object?

Paul Barbeau’s audacious answer is not to avoid looking at his female characters, but to ignore his male ones. The film is full of men, both casually and criminally awful. But not one of them gets a closeup. Most of them don’t even fully appear on screen.

They’re just hulking, faceless forms. Broad shoulders. Meaty arms. And, mostly, fists.

Instead, the camera story centers on Anna, a quiet grammar-school teacher whose sister recently died by suicide. The woman had been a prostitute. Anna thinks she was forced into the profession, and driven to despair by her brutal pimp.

And when the law can’t help her find justice, Anna and her girlfriend go in search of it themselves. They don’t have much of a plan. But now Anna has a purpose. And a gun.

Barbeau’s script is sometimes intriguingly elliptical, sometimes just annoyingly sketchy. It can be hard to keep track of what’s going on, especially once the film begins to cut between Anna and her girlfriend and the pimp and his new stable of talent.

The unrelenting awfulness of every male character in the film can be a little much, too. There’s no need to introduce some nice, helpful guy for balance. No one wants to see Ted Lasso suddenly pop up.

But can’t Anna ever run into a man who isn’t a total controlling creep? Who’s just dull?

The nearly all-female cast is very good though, particularly a dour Natalie Krill as the obsessed Anna. And Erin Agostino brings a properly haunted, hunted quality to someone known only as “The Recruiter,” a veteran prostitute now bullied into finding new workers for her violent employer.

Good, too, is the film’s look. Shot in rural French Canada on a small budget, it’s a dark, brooding movie, full of mournful, monochromatic images. Cars race down bleak roads. Sad-eyed women stand on motel balconies, staring down at parched parking lots.

And storm clouds gather overhead, promising a cleansing rain that never comes.