Talking Movies

February 4, 2014

A Skull in Connemara

Director Andrew Flynn brought the second instalment of Martin McDonagh’s celebrated Leenane trilogy to skull-battering life in the Gaiety Theatre.

Skull-APP

 

Mick Dowd (Garret Keogh) is our downtrodden protagonist, forgetful of the months since his wife died at his hands in a drink-driving accident seven years previously. He supplements his farming income with a macabre odd-job, digging up graves after seven years to allow new burials in the plots of the small local cemetery. This leads to a continuous niggling argument with his neighbour and poitin-cadging regular visitor Maryjohnny (Maria McDermottroe) – what has he done with the disinterred bones? Mick insists he can’t say, before quickly saying he buries them in the lake with prayers, after Maryjohnny’s obnoxious teenage grandson Mairtin (Jarlath Tivnan) volubly insists he heard Mick smashed the remains to skitters with a mallet… The local priest has foisted Mairtin on Mick as an assistant, and there’s worse – Mick’s wife is to be exhumed, and her bones disposed of…

Set designer Owen MacCarthaigh pulls off a spectacular scene change as Mick’s decrepit kitchen, which looks like its wall could fall down at any time given the cracks running thru it, actually does fall down, sending a whoosh of air and dust into the front rows, to reveal a cutaway of a graveyard behind it. This set is truly spectacular, slanting down so that graves are visible in the soil on one side, while Mairtin and Mick dig in an excavated pit at the other. Their toil is punctuated by some typical outrageous McDonagh arguments, not least when Mairtin’s older brother, paranoid Garda Thomas (Patrick Ryan) arrives, alternating between inhaler and cigarette, dropping hints that Mick bashed his wife’s head in before driving her into a wall without a seatbelt – leading to a distinction between ‘vague insinuations’ and ‘casting aspersions’.

After the interval and a stunning revelation Flynn goes to spraying-the-front-rows town on Mick and Mairtin’s gleeful approach to exhumation, and there are also some truly choice moments of absurdity as murder accusations, confessions and savagery are punctuated by vicious critiques of Maryjohnny’s conniving bingo habits. As Graham Price and I noted Tivnan’s hyperactive but slightly dim Mairtin is clearly a first cousin of both the indestructible Old Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World and of the equally irksome teenager in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, while Ryan is nicely restrained as his more sober but equally demented brother. But, amidst the comedy, Keogh also offers a genuinely moving depiction of a man burdened by the community’s continually muttered belief that he murdered a beloved wife, who is driven to violent extremes to prove his love for her.

A Skull in Connemara is revived less often than The Beauty Queen of Leenane, possibly because of its greater production requirements and its joyous tastelessness, but this production proves that it’s a fine romp.

4/5

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October 26, 2011

Demons Never Die

Robert Sheehan stars in a horror movie that very obviously wants to be a British Scream but just doesn’t have a sharp enough script to achieve that laudable goal.


X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos is the Drew Barrymore stand-in disembowelled in the cold open. After that there’s a showy credits sequence as the whole cast glance at each other with their names underneath as they gather in an auditorium to hear the police talk about her murder. There are a number of attacks by a masked killer on various teenagers and red herrings flung about the place, but a major difference is the existence of a suicide pact among this group, masterminded by the obnoxious Kenny whose insistence on documenting everything and maintaining strict categorical distinctions seems to make him a version of Jamie Kennedy in Scream. The in-camera analysis of story-structure is confined to the heroine explaining the idea of obstacles keeping apart lovers rather than horror clichés, but then the finale takes place in a large house with a party where the police are keeping watch along with numerous hidden cameras…

Robert Sheehan, currently wowing the West End as Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, is quite good as Archie, effectively winning our sympathy as the hero trying to dismantle the suicide club, while also displaying enough flashes of darkness in doing so to convince us that he might also be the masked serial killer. There also appears to be a moment of homage to his role as Misfits’ clown prince when Jazz shouts at him, “You’re not a f******** superhero Arch, you can’t save me.” Heroine Jenni Jacques initially makes you think that a decade ago Keira Knightley would have landed her part but she doesn’t have Knightley’s hauteur and Jasmine’s physical and emotional transformation during the film is slightly unbelievable. The other supporting players with the exception of Jason Maza’s splenetic homicidal/suicidal Kenny never flesh out their one-dimensional characters.

Writer/director Arjun Rose achieves some praiseworthy effects. Ashley Walters and Reggie Yates have some good comedic moments as the cops conducting the world’s most inept murder inquiry, a split-screen web-conversation is nicely rendered as highly coloured Warholian friezes, a crucial dialogue scene by the Thames achieves an incredibly washed-out look, and there’s a very tense hand-held night-vision escape thru a sinister house. But the script is largely perfunctory, with intriguing ideas, like Jasmine wanting to kill herself before she starts suffering hereditary dissociative identity disorder, and the possibility of Arch’s personality having been psychotically warped by witnessing his father murdering his mother, never being properly explored. The ending is an illogical muddle, including a deeply pointless final frame.

This is basic horror with disappointingly little shlock, but, just as I praised the promise shown by Donkey Punch, I think Arjun Rose has the potential to make a much better film soon.

2/5

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