Director: Andy Tohill & Ryan Tohill
Writers: Stuart Drennan
Stars: Moe Dunford, Lorcan Cranitch, Emily Taaffe, Francis Magee
This low budget Northern Irish film got a limited theatrical release last year and since then has been doing the rounds of the festivals and picking up awards and favourable reviews wherever it screens. It’s just been acquired by a US distributor and is due for another limited release in cinemas over there before it hits streaming and VoD platforms, which is probably where most people will find it.
So for a low budget film shot in 18 days, it’s doing very well. I went into it knowing nothing at a local screening and was able to chat with the producer and one of the directors after their Q&A. The film was shot not far from where I live on a bog during the bitterly cold November in 2017. It’s the sort of barren landscape rarely seen on-screen, but it suits the needs of this story perfectly.
Vikings star Moe Dunford plays Ronan Callahan who returns to his dilapidated family home after fifteen years in jail. He complains to local cop Murphy (Francis Magee) that Sean McKenna (Lorcan Cranitch) is on his land digging holes. Murphy refuses to do anything about it, having nothing but contempt for the ex-con. What the script slowly reveals is that Ronan was in jail for murdering Sean’s daughter. The body was never found and Sean has spent fifteen years systematically searching the huge bog behind Ronan’s home for her body. The thing is, Ronan doesn’t know where she is either, for although he was convicted of the murder, he was drunk that night and can’t remember what happened.
The prospect of watching people dig holes in a bog may not sound like an enticing way to spend your evening, but due to the clever script and direction, the film actually feels more like a murder mystery, albeit one with a very unconventional structure. The script tightens its emotional grip minute by minute, making you want to know what happened just as much as Sean does.
I’ve never seen any of Vikings, so I was unaware of Moe Dunford’s work, but he excels in this role. Ronan is a tortured soul still paying his penance after his jail sentence has been served. He doesn’t remember if he killed the girl or not, but without a clear recollection to the contrary, he takes all the hostility and punishment directed at him like a beaten dog. Lorcan Cranitch, who I’ll always remember as Jimmy Beck from Cracker, plays the broken father, literally searching for closure. Emily Taaffe is perfectly cast as Sean’s surviving daughter Roberta who is just trying to hold her father together. She dutifully brings him his lunch every day on the bog or he’d forget to eat, and that tells us a lot about her dedication and her father’s single-mindedness. Murphy, the cop, is a modern day sheriff, more likely to deliver a gut-punch than a restraining order if he feels he’s justified and Francis Magee seems tailor-made for that part.
It’s refreshing to see a murder/ mystery made in Northern Ireland that doesn’t fall back on the old Troubles clichés. This is a universal story of loss, devotion, grief and love that could’ve been set anywhere, but the landscape and nods to Irish folklore give it an extra layer that other locations might’ve missed. It’s a step towards genre film-making in Northern Ireland and one I welcome. Hopefully this leads to bigger things for the Tohill brothers and writer Stuart Drennan. Keep an eye out for them.