Director: Damian McCarthy
Starring: Jonathan French, Leila Sykes, Ben Caplan
Run Time: 87mins
Damian McCarthy’s captivating debut feature is a difficult film to review as it is hard to talk about without giving things away and it really is one of those the less you know going into it the better. That said that is what your reviewer here is required to do it, so we should probably get on with it.
Right from the off we know what type of film this is going to be. Opening, as it does, with a woman (who we will later find out is called Olga) using a drumming toy bunny almost like a divining rod to help make a horrendous discovery we don’t see as the audience. Making this weirder is the odd dilapidated house she is in and the woozy dreamlike way cinematographer Kieran Fitzgerald shoots it. As opening scene go it is as intriguing and unsettling as they come.
After this we are introduced to our nominal lead Isaac (Jonathan French) who is hired by Barret (Ben Caplan) to go to said house and look after his mentally troubled niece who is, of course, the aforementioned Olga (Leila Sykes) for a few days. He agrees, but that is before he realises the house is on its own on an island and he has to submit to a peculiar request to stay there. Despite some initial trepidation, he agrees. In one of those cases of, because the plot says so.
The initial set-up may feel somewhat contrived however you soon let it slide due to the wonderfully creepy atmosphere created once Isaac is trapped inside the house. Certainly, wallpaper has possibly never looked this disturbing. There is also great fun to be had in working out just what in the hell is going on. Is Isaac losing his mind? Is Olga manipulating things? Is the house haunted? What part does Barret have to play in all this?
In some ways though the movie is less about getting answer than soaking in the atmosphere which could be best described as mundane surrealism. As it is certainly weird but there is grimy grittiness to it at the same time.
It is also weird in the way it mixes genres.. The film managing to be a surreal psychological horror, a cat-and-mouse thriller and a haunted house film all wrapped up in one. It would also be fair to point out that while these elements are never less than watchable, they don’t always coalesce that well.
Another frustration is all the plot information that is very deliberately withheld. It is undoubtedly good to have some mystery in a film but sometimes it feels like the story is going out is way to be obtuse. Also, despite a decent performance from Sykes Olga’s character feels frustratingly opaque throughout the run time and her motivations also seem to flip-flop throughout.
None of these things detract too heavily though from what is a consummately gripping watch. Made particularly so by French who gives a must-watch performance as man-on-the-edge Isaac. There are also several nightmarish images that are likely to stay lodged for some time in the darkest recesses of your mind.
Overall: Despite the slightness of the story and the feeling the movie is being obtuse for the sake of it McCarthy has crafted a creepily effective and surreally atmospheric psychological horror tale anchored by three great central performances. On this encouraging evidence, it will be fascinating to see where the director goes next.