Movies reviews: The Delinquent, Beast, The Wound, The Old Dark Horse
(No Cert, IFI, 88mins)
The Old Dark House
(No Cert, IFI, 72mins)
Intense, earthy, bristling with authorial intelligence, Mark O'Rowe's feature debut The Delinquent Season lifts the lid on two seemingly idyllic middle class marriages. Jim (Cillian Murphy) and Danielle (Eva Birthistle) enjoy a comfortable, affluent life with their two kids in Dublin 6. Danielle is friendly with Yvonne (the excellent Catherine Walker), a brittle woman whose previously happy marriage to Chris (Andrew Scott) is now threatened by his perilous mood swings.
When Chris takes a swing at her, Yvonne comes to stay with Danielle for a few days, and Jim, who works at home, finds it odd having another woman wandering around the house. Desperate for attention, Yvonne comes on to him: she is beautiful and Jim responds. And without perhaps intending to, they begin an affair.
O'Rowe's screenplay scrupulously suspends judgement on the actions of his characters, allowing us to fill in the gaps and ask ourselves some unsettling questions. Is love always conditional? Can we ever really know another person? And do we live the lives we've chosen, or just the ones we've been given? It's not especially cinematic, but is so cleverly written and superbly acted that I didn't really care.
Michael Pearce's feature debut Beast, on the other hand, is intensely cinematic from start to finish, a dark contemporary fairytale set on the windswept isle of Jersey. Kerry actress Jessie Buckley is Moll, a touchy, unhappy young woman with darkness in her past. When she storms out of her own birthday party, Moll dances the night away in a local nightclub before meeting a scruffy but charismatic stranger on the beach.
Pascal (Johnny Flynn) is a wild and worldly Jersey native, who hunts rabbits and knows the name of every bird and plant but doesn't seem especially keen on humans. He's keen on Moll, who sees him as a sort of latter-day Heathcliff, and the pair become close. But meanwhile the mangled bodies of young girls have been turning up in remote corners of the island: the police are searching for a serial killer, and when suspicions fall on Pascal, Moll faces a difficult choice.
There's a haunting starkness to Pearce's direction and bleak poetry in his tricky, icky story, which starts out as a psychological drama before branching out into horror and is dominated by Buckley's quivering intensity.
In perhaps the most revealing moment of John Trengove's The Wound, a band of young Xhosa tribesmen who've been living in huts and enduring an unspeakable initiation ceremony wander out of a thicket and are confronted by an electric pylon. They're in the midst of modern South Africa, Johannesburg is only a few hours away by car, and the Xhosa are stubbornly clinging to ancient tribal traditions in a time and society where they may no longer have a place. This would be admirable were the Ulwaluko initiations not so severe, involving amateur circumcision and some pretty retrograde ideas about masculinity.
Xolani (Nakhane Toure), a lonely factory worker, has returned to his tribal homeland to take on the initiation of a wealthy friend's son, Kwanda, who comes from the city and a most reluctant inductee. He's also gay, and is not the only one it turns out, as tensions bubble to the surface on forced mountain hikes. It's a thoughtful, perceptive, nicely photographed film.
And finally, a brief word about The Old Dark House, James Whale's classic 1932 chiller, which has been digitally restored and is running at the IFI this week. When a group of strangers take refuge in a grand, crumbling house in the Welsh mountains during a terrible storm, dark secrets are unearthed. This is a horror film so perfect that anyone who wants to make them should watch it before they start.