- Film & TV
- 31 Mar 20
While we're all stuck at home and looking for something new to watch, why not check out some of the best Irish films from the past few years that you may have missed? With all-too-appropriate horrors and sci-fis about viruses and feeling trapped in your house, quirky comedies to distract you, emotional dramas to remind you about the importance of connection, there's something for everyone.
Vivarium: Volta.ie, YouTube Movies
Lorcan Finnegan’s feature debut is receiving rave reviews for its genre-bending, Twilight Zone meets Twin Peaks take on suburbia, and right now, its themes of feeling trapped at home are feeling very relevant. Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg star as a young couple looking to buy their first home, and an oddball real estate agent takes them to visit a brand new housing estate – but something’s wrong. The streets are all eerily identical and soulless, the houses all painted the same sickly green. But then the couple try to leave, they find themselves trapped in a Kafka-esque nightmare, endlessly lopping back to the same house, unable to leave. There’s no exit, no discernible weather, no other people. Packages arrive at their door filled with tasteless, vacuum-packed food. And one day, they discover a baby in a box with the instructions ‘raise the child and be released.’ What follows is a bleak, strange, disturbing and darkly funny exploration of suburbia, gender and the trappings of conventional life. The art direction is impeccably uncanny, and Poots and Eisenberg excellently depict their characters’ different responses to the impossible situation they find themselves in. While Finnegan and co-write Garret Shanley err on the side of being too ambiguous, shying away from committing to one interpretation, at this point in time when we’re all trapped in our houses, debating its meanings will become a conversation starter.
Kissing Candice: Now TV, iTunes
Armagh native Aoife McArdle is already a highly respected name in the film industry, known for her music videos, such as U2’s ‘Every Breaking Wave’ and Bryan Ferry’s ‘Loop Di Li’. Specializing in evocative, moody visuals, raw authenticity and an interest in youth culture, McArdle brings all this and more to her feature debut Kissing Candice, an unconventional coming-of-age drama set in a town along Ireland’s North/South border; only one of the ways the film’s characters all seem to straddle two worlds. Ann Skelly plays 17 year old Candice, a girl feeling trapped and unfulfilled in her rough town, where gangs of young men roam the streets, looking for trouble, looking for validation, looking for power. Candice’s police officer father (John Lynch) is overbearingly protective of Candice, who retreats into fantasy in order to escape. These fantasies are heightened by her experiences of epilepsy, which induce moments of sensory overload and hallucination, which McArdle plays with beautifully. These sensory aspects highlight Candice’s burgeoning teenage sexuality, and her attraction to gang member Jacob (Ryan Lincoln) pulses with the all-consuming quality of first love. At once raw and stylized, dreamlike and terrifying real, Kissing Candice is a bleak portrait of Ireland, but a compelling one. McArdle may sometimes distract from her message with too many visual flourishes, but you’ll never not be interested in what she has to say.
Papi Chulo: Netflix
After 2013’s The Stag and 2016’s Handsome Devil, writer and director John Butler rounds out his trio of films about male friendship and vulnerability with Papi Chulo, a huge-hearted and subtlety layered portrayal of the unlikely friendship between a lonely Los Angeles TV star and a Mexican migrant labourer. Matt Bomer plays Sean, a weather forecaster put on leave after he has an emotional breakdown on air. In his vulnerability, he hires Ernesto, (Alejandro Patiño), a middle-aged migrant worker with very limited English. Encouraged by Ernesto’s kind face and the judgement-free safety net of the language barrier, Sean begins using Ernesto as a surrogate therapist and friend. Bomer is a comedic revelation, his micro-expressions, nervous energy and mile-a-minute chattering perfectly conveying Sean’s genuine sweetness, desperate loneliness and fear of losing control. Patiño is Bomer’s perfectly understated foil, warmly portraying Ernesto’s initially bemused indulgence of this rich white man, and his growing compassion as he realises he’s witnessing a person’s most vulnerable moments. The performances elevate Butler’s writing, which is imbued with his trademark empathy-driven perspectives on masculinity, male friendship and vulnerability. But Butler’s screenplay also quietly touches on complex issues, such as found families in the LGBTQ community, class and race privilege, and the mind-spinning nature of grief. Tender, unassuming and lovely.
The Cured: Netflix
David Freyne’s intelligent, engaging and newly prescient film immerses us in a society grappling with the aftermath of the Maze Virus, which transformed thousands of people into zombified killing machines. A cure was discovered and has been successful in 75% of cases, and Ireland is now in the third wave of reintegrating the Cured back into society. But this isn’t easy, for anyone. The Cured still remember everything they did while infected – every act of violence, every kill – and so do the rest of society, who cannot forgive them, and treats them as subhuman. The tension between uninfected society and the Cured reaches a boiling point when power-hungry Conor (Tom Vaughan Lawlor), a Cured aspiring politician, begins leading a violent rebel faction of the Cured. Caught in the middle is Senan (a beautifully sensitive Sam Keeley), a Cured man who has returned to live with his American sister-in-law Abiagil (Ellen Page.) Senan is tormented by what he did during his four years of infection, but he also shares a bond with Conor from their days of infection. Freyne’s film is endlessly layered with smart details and open to multiple interpretations, involving immigration, terrorism, Trump, and Ireland’s own history of conflict. But his characters also feel real and authentically conflicted, evoking empathy on all sides. A pulse-pounding, thought-provoking thriller.
The Breadwinner: Netflix
The Breadwinner proves beyond all doubt that Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon is an animation powerhouse. Adapted from Deborah Ellis’ 2000 novel, The Breadwinner is set in Taliban-controlled Kabul, where 11 year old Parvana is becoming increasingly aware of the fundamentalist controls ruling everyone’s lives – particularly women. When her father is ripped from the family, the tragedy is heightened by laws preventing women from working or travelling alone. How are Parvana, her older sister, and devastated mother to survive? Through resilience, that’s how. Parvana shears her hair in order to pass as a boy, and discovers a new identity as she is allowed move through the world and provide for her family. But even as a boy, Kabul is oppressive and terrifying, so Parvana finds escape in imaginative tales of myth, magic and good triumphing over evil. Director Nora Twomey deftly handles Parvana’s bleak reality as well as her self-preserving imagination. Parvana lives in a world of expressive hand-drawn characters moving through realistic and evocative backdrops. Meanwhile, Parvana’s colourful tales are evoked through splendidly ornate paper cut-outs that are at once whimsical and steeped in traditional detailing.The Breadwinner has a sobering weight to it that will emotionally hit adults, all while children will be enraptured and entertained by the beautiful animation and deft storytelling. A triumph.
Extra Ordinary: Netflix
Most hauntings are so small they go unnoticed. And for guileless wallflower Rose (Maeve Higgins), her state of constant hauntedness largely goes unnoticed as well. The daughter of a once-famous spiritualist, she now refuses to use the psychic powers that troubled her childhood. Rose’s lonely routine is interrupted when she meets Martin (Barry Ward); a kind, bumbling widow whose teen daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) has been selected for a Satanic virgin sacrifice by fame-hungry singer Christian Winter (Will Forte, channelling a bit of Chris De Burgh.) To stop Christian, Rose must exorcise seven different ghosts and gather their ectoplasm – all channelled and regurgitated through Martin. Gross? Yes. But attraction may grow along with the supernatural excretions. The first feature from writing-directing duo Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman, Extra Ordinary is at its cozy, delightful best when focusing on the understated, riffing chemistry between its characters. Higgins’ distinctive lilt and self-deprecating but subtly sly comic styling captures Rose’s endearingly awkward insecurity, and the film’s unapologetically Irish tone, filled with references to Irish superstitions and the casually pitch-black cadence of Irish conversations. The lightweight, twee banality the supernatural events adds to the offbeat humour that occasionally evokes Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows. A very low-speed car chase after a levitating body is a particular highlight. Cult appreciation would be well-deserved.
Michael Inside: Netflix
Class, masculinity, violence and incarceration are all in for empathetic and emotive examination in Michael Inside, Frank Berry’s engrossing drama. Starring newcomer Dafhyd Flynn as naïve 18 year old Michael who gets a prison sentence after stashing drugs for some friends, the films’ power lies in its realism. Extensively researched and workshopped with the Irish prison rehabilitation service Pathways, Michael Inside charts how easily hopelessness, poverty and prejudice can create a pipeline leading young men into prison. Sneaking into his grandfather Francis’ room the night before entering the prison, usually stoic and monosyllabic Michael sits on the bed, his voice quiet and cracking. “I won’t make it.” The question becomes, how does anyone? As Michael faces threats and intimidation from another prisoner inside (Moe Dunford), Francis (Lalor Roddy, heartbreaking) is also being targeted outside from loansharks If modern freedom relies on opportunities, money and a support system, and some people have none, how accountable are they for the decisions they make? Berry’s film addresses these points subtly, focusing on the intimately carved journey of his characters. As we slowly learn more about Michael and Francis and the danger facing both of them heightens, the emotional tension will leave you breathless.
Stunningly acted, never didactic and yet provoking endless important questions, Michael Inside is a portrait of a damaged system, and the boys we lose to it.
Black 47: Netflix
Martin Feeney has come home, but it’s not much of a homecoming. After deserting the British Army while fighting in Afghanistan, Feeney (James Frecheville) arrives back in Connemara and discovers the once idyllic landscape ravaged and littered with corpses, the small cottages now gutted and torched, his family gone. The Famine has decimated the area, and beyond – but Feeney notices that some people have managed not only to survive, but to profit. Collaborators who betrayed their families and neighbours. Young men who helped the British Army evict mothers and children. Landlords who exploited the vulnerable and poor. (Hello painful social relevance.) Devastated and enraged, Feeney embarks on a quest for bloody retribution against those responsible for his family’s destruction – but he himself is the target of another man’s mission. Feeney’s former comrade Hannah (Hugo Weaving) has been charged with tracking him down and punishing him for his desertion, and so Feeney becomes both hunter and hunted on this journey that highlights the murderous greed that contributed to this genocide. It is genuinely shocking that Black 47 is the first major film set during the Famine, rife as the era is with historical weight, political heft and horrifying tragedy, and Daly’s machismo-fuelled, revenge Western is a bold take. Declan Quinn’s desaturated cinematography is effectively bleak, and an elegiac use of Irish is moving. Vicious fights between Feeney and British officers are well choreographed. An interesting and flawed film.
The Hole In The Ground: Netflix
Horror has long explored the fears and challenges of parenting, and the relationship between mother and child comes pre-loaded with an emotional and bodily connection, as well as link society often treats as mystical. Films like The Exorcist, Hereditary, The Babadook have all explored this relationship, and Irish director Lee Cronin plays with familiar horror dilemmas and dynamics in his debut feature The Hole In The Ground. Seana Kerslake plays Sarah, a mother escaping an abusive relationship with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey.) Moving into a dilapidated country house, Sarah’s first renovation project involves wallpapering the entire house with hexagons straight from The Shining – a fun nod to how Sarah’s decisions are a one-way street to horror, including doubting her instincts when Chris returns after running into that eerie forest, and seems…changed.
It’s not a new story, but Cronin knows this, instead creating an enjoyably spooky atmosphere that is satisfactorily jumpy and unsettling, while including countless references to classic horror films to treat genre aficionados. As Sarah is torn between fearing her son and fearing that she’s losing her mind, the rising tension is aided by Tom Comerford’s shadowy cinematography and Stephen McKeon’s (somewhat overbearing) score. The film is a great showcase for the sublime Kerslake, who manages to effortlessly convey seventeen emotions in a single glance at her son. She’s so talented it’s scary.
Dublin Oldschool: Netflix
“Make sure that when you tell your story, you lived it like it was a novella version of a War And Peace style work of Dublin fiction. Epic in small ways. Live it up now, because these be the days.” So croons Jason (Emmet Kirwan), who spends his days swaggering around Dublin like he’s young and carefree, though neither is quite true anymore. The late nights of coke and yokes has turned into a neverending quest for them that is slowly taking his toll. He’s missing work, letting down his friends – but sure it’s all good craic, right? It’s not until Jason bumps into his estranged brother Daniel (Ian Lloyd Anderson) on the streets of Dublin that he realises it might not be, anymore. Daniel is slowly recovering from a heroin addiction, and as the two brothers address their issues over a series of meetings in Dublin city, Jason is forced to confront his sense of superiority about which drugs he uses to escape reality. Kirwan and Lloyd are both compelling performers, with Anderson bringing a melancholic intelligence to the role and serves as a beautiful foil to the more outrageous and comic characters in Jason’s life – and there are many. Dublin Oldschool is consistently uproarious in its portrait of young Dubliners always looking for bants and raves. Director Dave Tynan’s vision of Dublin is authentic, raw and emotional. This may be Oldschool, but it’s a new telling – and it’s thrilling.
During the opening of this documentary about boxer, Olympian and world-renowned athlete Katie Taylor, her promoter says “I don’t think many people know Katie Taylor.” But Ross Whitaker is going to try change that. Filming Taylor over 18 months after her defeat in the 2016 Rio Olympics, the director attempts to gain insight into the life and thought process of Ireland’s most incredible athlete. And Taylor is indeed a worthy subject. Starring out by disguising herself as a boy to fight in boys-only clubs, Taylor’s childhood passion and fearless determination never wavered, and her rise was stratospheric – until Rio, that is. Rio marked first high-profile match that Taylor had fought – and lost - without her father and lifelong coach Pete Taylor, from whom she had become estranged. The personal and professional loss proves a devastating and transformative combination, and in many ways Katie plays like a coming-of-age story. Whitaker follows the famously shy and humble Taylor as she moves to America on her own, seeking out new coaches, new opportunities and a way to navigate a world no longer insulated by familial stability and unmitigated success. Taylor’s talent, determination and sport-changing legacy is never in question, and you can’t watch Katie without respecting her deeply. With Katie, you’ll also get to know her a little bit more.