Published Apr 08, 2010This small-scale, atmospheric Irish tale brings the audience through an odd mix of character-based introspective drama and disturbing psychological horror, a mix that isn't quite oil and water, but still doesn't congeal into a complete and satisfactory film.
Ciarán Hinds plays Michael Farr, a soft-spoken widower and single dad to two young kids living in a quiet seaside Irish town. During the town's literary festival, Michael befriends London, a lovely, middle-aged and unmarried female novelist of supernatural fiction. Perhaps its happenstance or not, but this coincides with a series of ghostly sightings of his father-in-law as a grotesque zombie stalking him in his home, his car, even in the shoe rack of his closet. As romance blossoms it would appear to finally bring Michael out of his depressed funk and allow him to move on in his life, if the ghostly demon doesn't take him first.
It's a frustrating experience because each of the essential elements of this film ― tone, character, suspense, romance ― works on its own, but not together as a whole. As a melancholy character study of a grieving man trying to move on in his life, the film is tender and earthy romantic, rendered with genuine sympathy by Hinds. In the moments of terrifying horror, the film is actually stunningly creepy. But there are two movies fighting each other, and it would appear that director Conor McPherson is trying to have his cake and eat it too.
If anything, it's worth the price of admission just to experience the three or four moments of horror, which are truly some of the most frightening I've seen on film in a while. There's a terrifying moment with Michael driving in the car, at first misdirected by the gentle flirting between he and London the scene before, then the camera pans over to the ghost sitting beside him in the passenger seat with black blood coming out of his eyes and mouth, a shocking moment that will lift even the most hardened horror fan boy out of his or her seat.
But these moments, despite their brilliance, serve little narrative purpose and don't substantially plug into the story. And why Michael is seeing the ghost of his father-in-law, who is alive, and not his dead wife is confusing and never explained. Even the presence of Aidan Quinn as a snobby American writer who competes for London's affection is also never integrated properly. And their climatic fist fight in London's hotel room borders on slapstick.
The film ends without closing off anything, just a random fade to black at the 85 mark, which had me asking: is there another reel missing? Did they run out of film? Or money? Or did they realize there's no movie here and just gave up? (Mongrel Media)