Michael Lee reviews Cathy Brady’s tale of two reunited sisters who discover secrets from their mother’s past.

Wildfire marks the feature debut of award winning director Cathy Brady. Brady’s debut is a wonderfully engaging and honest drama that invites the viewer on a journey through an enigmatic family trauma. The story focuses on the torn relationship between two sisters, it’s a bittersweet tale about the bonds of sisterhood. It’s set on the border between north and south, and the history of violence lingers beneath the surface, like ghosts in the air. Wildfire is a visceral, and at times cathartic experience, marked by a trio of powerhouse performances by some of the country’s finest talents. 

Roaring waves thrash against the side of a cargo ship. Kelly watches over board, with a cold fire behind her eyes.  Kelly (Nika McGuigan) is wearing dirty clothes and a backpack.  As the ship docks, and Kelly goes through passport control, we discover she’s been a missing person for over a year. The police ask if they can contact anybody for her, but Kelly refuses any help and leaves.  

Kelly wanders through the dark of night, over the hills and through the trees, until she finds herself at the door of a quiet suburban home. She knocks on the door abruptly until a man opens it. Sean (Martin McCann) is the partner of Kelly’s sister, Lauren. He looks at her with shock and awe, and invites her in, and warns her that Lauren was destroyed by her disappearance.  So, when Lauren (Nora-Jane Noonen) returns from work her immediate joy turns to anger when Kelly can’t explain her actions. But Lauren and Sean try to take Kelly in, and set her on a path to recovery but it’s a turbulent endeavour at best. 

Kelly’s wild nature, and Lauren’s inability to deal with the loss of their mother, strain tensions between the sisters and with Sean and Lauren’s work. Both sisters begin to succumb to the wildfires within their hearts, and it’s a frenetic battle between progress and destruction as they try to find the path to some salvation. 

The film was shot by cinematographer Crystel Fournier, who along with Brady crafts a startling naturalistic vision of the north/south Irish border. The camera work and lighting are crafted with a simplicity and honesty which engages, but never disarms the viewer. The reality they’ve created has a sense of restraint that’s nothing short of beautiful. 

The film is marked by the high calibre of the central performance of the late Nika McGuigan who tragically died in 2019 from cancer. She brings an unsparing vitality and artistry to Kelly that’s wholly authentic. Her performance is complemented by the great Nora Jane-Noonan and Martin McCann, who excels as  Sean.  Wildfire is an arresting drama that burns and melts with incredible performances and establishes Cathy Brady as a visionary feature director. 

Wildfire is in cinemas from 3rd September 2021


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