Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon. Starring Charlie Murphy, Moe Dunford, Peter Coonan, Pat Shortt, Tommy Tiernan.
The Plot: In the rural Irish town of Dromord, local bigwig Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt) has his finger in many pies. The Mannion Family used to be respectable, but now it’s troubled by an internal feud. Sarah (Charlie Murphy) has married into the family and exerts a certain control over husband Daddy. However, she’s more interested in stirring up trouble with his two sons, with whom she’s involved. There’s the agoraphobic Doggy (Peter Coonan), who runs a number of services from his caravan and Martin (Moe Dunford), a frustrated chicken farmer whom his father regards as a witless failure. As their limitations of their lives become apparent, the family feud comes to a head in the windswept waters of the nearby lake…
The Verdict: There’s something in the water when it comes to rural Irish dramas. Whether it’s the disaffected lives of people living in dreary small towns, the Celtic Tiger barely touching these quiet places or the moody mountainous weather, the countryside is a hotbed for potential conflict between its characters. It’s fertile breeding ground for a story such as Dark Lies The Island, the latest film from Ian Fitzgibbon. It’s based on two stories from the recesses of the mind of writer Kevin Barry. Barry’s script interweaves its main characters of the Mannion Family into the story of the random element, Richie (Tommy Tiernan). He’s a man with a past who arrives in the town to buy and run a take away. Over the course of a few days, these characters will reach breaking point as Sarah stokes things up between Daddy and his sons.
Daddy dismisses Dromord as ‘a godless hole of a place’, but the only real hole here is the one that the Mannion family has dug itself into. Madness runs in the family, a fact that concerns Sarah as she looks upon her daughter staring blankly at the nearby lake. All the characters in this film have a dark cloud hanging over their heads, some darker than others and a thunderstorm on the way too. Fitzgibbon carefully constructs his film as a moody rural character piece, limiting the sphere of the story around a small group of characters. There’s little in the way of subplot here, other than two buckos who come looking for trouble. There are no nosy Gardai, quirky random characters or even the seemingly obligatory priest. The sharply written and occasionally funny script is stripped down to the bare essentials and is all the better for it. This is a small and involving story but told within a larger framework of a once great family staring into a lake of troubles.
The lake becomes a character in itself here. As Sarah narrates early on, the characters are drawn to it and the island that they once played on as kids. Fitzgibbon captures the moody atmosphere for the film through his eye for detail, from a large lakeside house to empty streets and desolate country roads. Cathal Watters’ cinematography is excellent, trapping the characters in their environment and barely breaking free from the confines of it. Stephen Rennicks’ subtle score underscores the broiling emotions just waiting to explode with murderous intent. Dark Lies The Island is a very particular kind of Irish film that allows you to soak in its detail and wryly smile at its twisted sense of humour. Fitzgibbon has made a concentrated effort to make a distinctive Irish film that stands on its own two feet without recourse to the past (a frequent fault of many Irish films). In a year of already fine Irish films like The Dig (which also featured Dunford), Dark Lies The Island is a rich and darkly involving smalltown drama with bite.