Set in Connemara, 1845, ‘Arracht’ primarily follows Colmán Sharkey (Dónall Ó Héalaí), a fisherman and farmer, who lives a peaceful life alongside his brother in their small rural community. Colmán is asked to take in a former soldier named Patsy (Dara Devaney) and upon discovery that, as in the rest of the country, their potato crops have failed, the men go to their English landlord’s (Michael McElhatton) home to request a stay on rent. The visit proves catastrophic and Colmán resigns himself to a life of penance in isolation. That is until a child gives him a second chance at life.
Irish language thriller ‘Arracht’, also known as ‘Monster’, proves an immersive thriller and affecting drama from start to finish. The epoch and ritualistic nature of the community in the west is captured well while living off the land and sea is initially portrayed warmly, and later isolatedly, as appropriate for where the story turns. Dónall Ó Héalai proves a stately lead while Dara Devaney’s ability to create a sense of hostility and tension is undeniable. Within minutes, you’re intrigued as to how relations between him and other locals will develop.
The famine has only entered pop culture media such as film (most notably ‘Black 47’) and theatre in recent years. Here the before and after make ‘Arracht’ a film of two halves which perhaps could have been a little better sewn together (particularly with regards to the final confrontation), but both halves are so skilfully produced and directed that it’s not a major detracting factor. You’re completely sucked into the look and feel of the film, particularly when male aggression is on display.
When the violence eventually erupts, it is sudden and graphic, and when it flashes forward to a couple of years later, you’re quickly re-orientated, having gone from the brutality of what preceded to the burdensome guilt and depression our hero carries in this new era. The voiceover that informs you of events that have unfolded proves more horrific than anything that could have been teased or shown. The trauma is penetrative and genuine, and not cheapened to a revenge thriller.
Ó Héalai delivers a performance that feels truly real and you ache for him. You ache too to see what his community, that once valued family and faith, have become. But ‘Arracht’ is also a story of hope and after all the on-screen savagery, it offers a rather sweet and touching conclusion. There aren’t many Irish movies that end as such. It’s a stirring achievement that stays with you long after viewing.