A woman must overcome the odds in the greatest fight of her life in this powerful and emotional drama from the director who brought you Sarafina! and The Lullaby.
On Christmas, two days after she married Matt, Mary’s life was destroyed when she and Matt end up in a car accident. The accident killed Matt and Mary was left with one lung, destroying her dream to race in Africa. However, in her time of need, she meets gravedigger Coffin, a former doctor whose life ended up in turmoil due to civil war in his country. Mary learns to adapt using her one lung as she eventually attempts to enter a park race. However, when she loses her breath, she ends up in the hospital and Coffin is blamed and blackmailed to be sent back to his homeland.
A year passes and Coffin has reverted back to being a doctor. He gets a surprise when Mary arrives. She has learned the truth about what had happened, and Mary has one thing on her mind. A year ago, Matt had planned for Mary and he to fly out to Africa for their honeymoon to compete in The Furnace. The Furnace is the hardest race in the world, where runners compete in a major marathon along the African reserve. Will Mary be able to overcome the odds and prove herself, or will she need something more powerful to face the greatest challenge of her life?
You have to hand it to Darrell Roodt. The Oscar-nominated director behind Sarafina! and The Lullaby has come up with a film that revolves around one woman doing what she can to overcome the odds and finding hope and faith through the power of God. While it’s not completely faith-based, it is more about the challenges our protagonist, Mary, must overcome to prove herself not only for herself, but those who don’t believe in her.
Horror film star Jamie Bernadette pulls off one of the best performances of her career as Mary, who loses it all and blames God for the death of her husband and losing a lung, which ends her running career. However, through hard work and perseverance, Mary goes through quite a struggle as she is determined to race again with the pinnacle of her adventure revolving around the titular “Furnace”. The term is a race alongside the African reserve, in which she would risk the dangers of nature to overcome the odds.
Luthuli Dlamini, who somewhat resembles a young Morgan Freeman, provides excellent support as Coffin, a former doctor turned grave digger who becomes Mary’s guide in his determination and perseverance. He also is the narrator of the film, describing how the power of God can be an asset to overcome the odds. While there’s obvious no romantic spark between the two, it is more as if Mary sees Coffin as the father figure she longs for as her parents aren’t exactly supportive of her actions. Perhaps Coffin sees Mary as the daughter he has wanted after losing his family to civil war and she is now the closest thing to family he has.
Kudos also must go out to Laura Linn, who plays fellow racer Raphaela, who befriends Mary and helps her when things get to go a bit awry. However, it’s clear there is more to Raphaela than meets the eye. The Lullaby’s Thandi Puren is excellent as Amanda, the Furnace field guide who offers her help to Coffin when Mary goes through her greatest struggle yet since losing her husband, played by Knysna co-star Armand Auchamp in the film’s opening scene. The film also marked the final performance of The Gods Must Be Crazy II co-lead Lena Farugia, who passed away shortly after production was completed at the age of 67.
The Furnace churns out one of the best performances from horror film star Jamie Bernadette with its story of redemption, overcoming the odds, and the power of faith. Darrell Roodt once again shows why he is one of the best directors to come from South Africa.
WFG RATING: A
Exploration Pictures presents a Phoenix Films production in association with Valhalla Pictures. Director: Darrell Roodt. Producers: Andre Frauenstein Snr. and Samuel Fraurenstein. Writers: Darrell Roodt and Pieter du Plessis. Cinematography: Justus de Jager. Editing: Leon Gerber.
Cast: Jamie Bernadette, Luthuli Dlamini, Laura Linn, Thandi Puren, Armand Auchamp, Lena Farugia.