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Heroine of Hell


Nietzchka Keene

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Plot Summary

Magda (Catherine Keener) is an artist with issues: issues with men, issues with abandonment, and issues with people who get away with bad things. She ponders cosmic justice for the wicked but isn't sure she really believes. Instead, she takes the law of karma into her own hands and goes on a personal crusade to paint portraits of the suffering hell-bound, complete with tailor-made punishments for their transgressions. Taking the idea of "art therapy" a tad too far, Magda finds solace by condemning on canvas murderers, adulterers and people who don't return answering machine messages. When Madga's lover (Michael Nickles) leaves her for another woman, she steals his car to punish him, heads north, and leaves diabolical messages on his answering machine describing hellish tortures befitting his crimes from Dante's Inferno. Late that night, she comes across a burning car smashed against a tree. The charred hand of the driver points toward a briefcase thrown free from the accident. Inside she finds a blurred snapshot of a laughing woman. When Magda tries to return the picture to the dead man's widow, Margaret, she is shocked by Margaret's refusal and coldness. Later, Margaret returns home to find a fresh mural of her own damnation painted on her bedroom wall depicting her dead husband's burning sedan and the agonies that await her. With this phantasmagoric work of art, Magda injects herself into a stranger's world by confronting Margaret with vivid representations of her own personal hell. Magda grows to have sympathy for Margaret, however, when she learns that the woman in the photograph is really her dead husband's mistress. But, Margaret is no innocent either: out of revenge she was having an affair with a man who may have engineered her own husband's death. Magda sees more and more of herself in Margaret. While on her journey, Magda encounters Callum (Dermot Mulroney), a smooth-talking carpenter who shares his bed with her asking only in return to be immortalized in one of Magda's hellscapes. The two become lovers as Magda's quest for the justice of hell uncovers an unexpected world of greed, adultery and possible murder. In the end, when faced with her sins, Margaret must choose between homicide, suicide or heading north with Madga on her graffiti spree of painting the torments of the damned. The film is interlaced with irony, dark humor and a climactic Thelma and Louise meets Ingmar Bergman ending.

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