Irish Film Review: Dark Lies the Island

DIR: Ian Fitzgibbon • WRI: Kevin Barry • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: Stephen O’Connell • DES: Jeff Sherriff • PRO: Michael Garland • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • CAST: Peter Coonan, Moe Dunford, Charlie Murphy, Pat Shortt, Jana Moheiden

Dark Lies the Island is about a doomed love-rectangle in a small Irish town. Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt) has the run of the place in Dromord. Every other business in town is a Mannion enterprise. But as his two sons (Moe Dunford and Peter Coonan) become jealous of his money and young wife Sara (Charlie Murphy), can the Mannions escape with their dignity intact? Inspired by characters from Kevin Barry’s short-story collection by the same name, Dark Lies the Island is a film about desperation and loneliness in a town that has a hold over all the characters.

Daddy Mannion may be the success of the town, but his personal life leaves much to be desired. His wife Sara, twenty years his junior, is bored sick at home with an atypical teenage daughter, played brilliantly by Jana Moheiden. Sara will do anything to punish Daddy for keeping her trapped in Dromord. To make matters worse, Daddy has two grown sons from his first marriage: failed businessman, Martin (Moe Dunford) and a recluse who runs shady businesses from his shack in the woods, Doggie (Peter Coonan). 

Most of the characters are desperate to get out of Dromord but do nothing to leave. Circumstances like debt, marriage, family business or agoraphobia keep people there, drive people to madness, and send them to the bottom of the lake. The irony of Doggie’s situation is highlighted when he says “I can leave whenever I want” but hasn’t set foot outside his shack in years. The feeling of being trapped is emphasised by cinematographer Cathal Watters, as he frames the characters in lots of close-ups, contrasting the expansive scenery outside. 

Something magical hangs over the film, as though Dromord has abstained from the rules of reality. The whole 90-minutes you’re waiting for the worst to happen to the Mannions, but you feel like absolutely anything could happen. The score by Stephen Rennicks (Room, Frank) enhances the mood – dark and playful at the same time, balancing light and dark.

I really wanted to like it more than I did. I’m a big Kevin Barry fan, so I was interested in seeing how Fitzgibbon would manage it. Barry has such a distinctive style that sadly didn’t translate to the screen. The magic of Kevin Barry is he puts you in someone’s head and makes you believe you’re there. But in the film, the focus shifts between so many different characters that it feels like a diluted version of his work. Barry perfectly balances humour and darkness in his short stories, and I’m not sure anyone can do him justice. 

With solid performances and gorgeous cinematography, it’s a shame the film doesn’t live up to the book. Barry’s tone is a hard one to pin down so I think audiences might have a hard time knowing how to feel. 

Aoife O’Ceallachain

87′ 

Dark Lies the Island  is released 18th October 2019

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