Cannes (Directors' Fortnight) – A corpse in the forest unsettles a rural Irish community and unnverves a local girl. Emma Rowley takes a look at a first feature that successfully combines social and psychological threads.
Arlene wakes up in the woods one morning. She is wrapped in a duvet on the forest floor, another girl asleep beside her. But as she becomes more aware of her surroundings, she realises the girl next to her is dead, her body covered in clotted blood.
The debut feature film from Irish director Rebecca Daly was four years in the making while its producers secured funding. It's a ghost story of sorts – its protagonist is haunted by her mother's sudden death 20 years before. The body in the woods has summoned up a second ghost, Arlene's shadow self, a sleepwalking alter-ego who takes her from the safety of her flat and abandons her the next morning with no memory of her actions.
She's therefore doubly in danger. Not only is there a killer on the loose but her treacherous sleeping self may put her in his path. She becomes too terrified to let herself sleep, piling furniture in front of her door, smashing crockery and emptying cereal boxes on the floor so she can stay awake by picking up the shards and rubbish piece by piece. In the daytime, she becomes drawn to the family of the dead woman, striking up a friendship with her sister and moving into an uneasy relationship with her ex-boyfriend, now a suspect in her murder.
The film builds on its multiple uncertainties. Arlene's fears (which grow more intense as she becomes more sleep-deprived) are mirrored in the small Irish community around her; theories and rumours reverberate around as the people affected struggle to make sense of the murder. Daly and Glenn Montgomery co-wrote the script, and one of its strengths is its naturalistic dialogue. Another is the way in which it follows the threads of gossip from memorial service to pub to factory: Maggie (Olwen Fouere), the mother of the dead girl's boyfriend, is initially respectful to her memory but when her son is accused of killing her, she starts drawing people into offensive speculation about her promiscuous behaviour. Without a killer, the commmunity focuses blame on the victim, circulating stories and rewriting her character to fit their need to believe that such things happen only to bad people.
Antonia Campbell-Hughes' (Bright Star) quiet performance anchors the film. Another standout is Olwen Fouere, who has another film at Cannes this year: Paolo Sorrentino's This Must Be The Place, starring Sean Penn. A supporting cast of new and lesser-known actors add depth to the piece.
There are moments of horror film eeriness, as in the scene where two small schoolgirls with long, matching plaits discover the body in the woods, and a sequence in which Arlene seems to find herself dragging a boar though the forest at night. It's beautifully filmed, with a suitably dreamy palette of washed out colours. Nonetheless, an unsatisying conclusion means that the film drifts away from its audience, rather like a dream when the dreamer wakes up.
Rating on a scale of 5 days without sleep: 3
Release date: TBC
Directed by: Rebecca Daly
Screenplay by: Rebecca Daly, Glenn Montgomery
Cast: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Sam Keeley, Vicky Joyce, Olwen Fouere, Gina Moxley
Running time: 1hr31