There were two ways you heard about this film, and for most it was because Randal Plunkett, 21st Baron of Dunsany, rewilding enthusiast, vegan advocate, and death metal fan, directed it at his family estates. The other is because Katharine Isabelle is in it, and you are willing to give it a go because Ginger Snaps is an amazing bit of werewolf and feminist horror cinema. Either way, you’ve heard the hype and you want to give it a go, so what can you expect from the 105 minutes of Irish psychological thriller?
Well, the first thing you can expect is some shockingly good Irish countryside. Sounds odd to say, but it’s used extensively throughout the film, and it’s shot really well. It adds an absolute sense of place, giving everything a touch of loneliness and beauty, and ties into the themes of the story. The whole thing could have been the cast walking around the forest, shoreline, and general landscape looking mournfully at stuff and you wouldn’t get bored until the 30-minute mark because it is that good. It’s not framed in any especially fancy or expensive ways – one shot had to have been accomplished by dumping the camera in the hedge – but it works, and it keeps you locked in.
The other thing to expect is the cast, which is Simone (Katharine Isabelle) and Kid (Hazel Doupe), along with a couple of randoms, wandering around the place and looking mournful. The bulk of it is Simone being a fairly useless person, having a passion for self-destructive alcoholism, driving whilst self-destructively intoxicated, and considering a Pot Noodle adequate compensation for a hit-and-run incident. So we see her wandering around a small town, wandering around the aforementioned countryside, and wandering around a quite nice house that’s covered with the detritus of someone who’s gone “bollocks to it all” due to the kind of traumatic event we get to see in spooky flashbacks. Thankfully she does this incredibly well, or you’d be absolutely sick of this movie after the half-hour mark.
Occasionally she writes some things, so we get to see short pastiches of her work. Luckily, this doesn’t break the golden rule of “Don’t show us something better we could be watching instead of this” because her writing is pants. This is hopefully intentional, as this film is very serious about it’s writing. We know this because we get regular chapter cards, replete with pithy titles and roman numerals, every 10 or so minutes. Magically, this only gets old about an hour in, when you’re begging the film to actually give us some plot because there is only so much wandering we can take.
Kid does a fair bit of wandering as well, although it evolves from wistful wandering around at night on a road where a self-destructively drunk alcoholic might easily run her over into wandering around after that alcoholic and tidying their shit up after them. It’s a curious relationship, played slow and naturally, and with only a few too many “oooh, she’s a bit weird” moments to make you suspect that Kid is not all you’d expect her to be.
I can’t go too deep into the plot beyond that, because there really isn’t that much of it to throw around. It’s not especially bad, and it’s got a couple of nice ideas, but structurally it holds way too much back until the end. When things finally resolve, you get hit with a wave of revelations that end up feeling a bit cheap, which is annoying as the ideas are really rather good. It’s just that it’s the kind of move that, could it do its own PR, would use the words “ethereal” and “evocative” rather than “pissing around” and “not getting to the point”. There are a couple of what could have been tense moments to break things up, but somehow, they just become part of the steady flow of things.
No one gives a bad performance, including the characters that are way less interesting or mysterious than they think they are (not even the one who looks straight at the audience to make sure that we’ve taken in the really deep monologue bit). Isabelle and Doupe absolutely hold the film together, as you need when two characters being around each other is 90% of the running time. And even though it’s not expensively filmed that works in its favour, giving it a nice feel of reality.
The problem here is that it’s too damn long and far too damn willing to be slow about things. There is probably some artistic goal to this approach, and I can understand that people will find it charming or engaging, possibly because its unrelenting refusal to get to the point gives it a sense of occasion. But if you don’t gel with its intentions you are going to find it annoying. For the average viewer, the whole thing could have been cut to a tight 90 and you’d lose nothing from the overall effect. It skips into the Trash because it feels like a decent enough idea drawn out way too long just because it could.