A long-standing family feud between two brothers and their father starts to boil over in a small Irish town. As the family start moving against each other, Sarah (Charlie Murphy) entwines herself into the machinations that can only lead to trouble.
There has been a fair chunk of films I’ve seen this year where my main criticisms could basically be boiled down to “read a book”. So ‘Dark Lies the Island’ landed on my plate as a welcome meaty steak of Irish cinema. It is adapted from some short stories by author Kevin Barry, having not read the source material, I can’t comment on how effective it is as an adaptation, but its literature roots go a long way to grounding this film in something brilliant.
First of all, it is a very bleak film. The set up has a Coen Brothers vibe that the showrunners for 'Fargo' so brilliantly captured. But rather than the wry darkness that follows in their films, we get something much more corrupt, closer to say, Irvine Welsh. I use these names tentatively, as it is very much its own thing. With this tone established there are plenty of jokes even if half of them teeter on total despair.
For anyone that has lived in a rural setting, the Mannion family will be all too familiar. You are not really a village until you have one total bampot (Ed: this is a Scottish term for troublemaker) family that wrecks everyone's head. They are a horrible bunch and you rarely feel sympathy for them, so it is their complete car crash of an existence that keeps you hooked. It is the sort of film that really relies on the cast, as great as the writing is, it needs some outstanding performance to anchor it.
Pat Shortt plays the patriarch of the family, who somehow manages to be terrifying and utterly pathetic at the same time. Moe Dunford plays the hard-of-thinking Martin whose fecklessness is a constant source of irritation for the family. Whilst Peter Coonan is the deranged Doggy, who tries to pull all the strings whilst never leaving his home. They are are complete melts in their own distinct ways. It is clear early on that all three of their paths are going to collide in disaster, so seeing how they get to that point is partly what makes it so gripping.
The motivations of the central character Sarah also go unexplained. So like the lake that so many of the characters are obsessed with, there is always more going on under the surface than meets the eye. Is she vindictive, is she ill, is she just bored and likes creating drama? There is no easy answer to these questions and leaves a lot for the viewer to mull over.
‘Dark Lies the Island’ is not an entirely easy watch and it will certainly upset/alienate a good chunk of the audience. But those that can weather the darkly comic sensibilities will find a real gem in this latest Irish cinema offering.