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Going to war for Irish film online, hoping to find lost masterpieces and just maybe some overdue recognition for our National cinema.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The War of Independents Film Review #3 - Derelict



The one setting crime thriller has its grubby origins in the low budget end of the spectrum. This is a space also reserved for horror films with similar budgets: decorate the space with plenty of background visuals to hopefully give information to the viewer so you can avoid energy sapping exposition. Only a supremely confident filmmaker and screenwriter will fill a low budget film with dialogue. What immediately springs to mind is Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs. This was low budget by Hollywood standards. Peppering all sorts of pop culture reference throughout his witty, sharp and concise screenplay he makes you enjoy a film about a robbery you never see. This is a difficult thing to do as his imitators showed with films that paled in comparison (Things to do in Denver when you are Dead, Guy Richie’s thrillers)

Frank Kelly’s Derelict takes the one location idea from Reservoir Dogs and filters it through a Tiger kidnapping. A bank manager, his wife and daughter are brought to a derelict factory by four men after a kidnapping. The family are tied up while one of the men leaves with the husband to get to the bank early to get the money. This is unseen and what we are left with is a tension filled real time account of the wait. There is promise in a situation like this. Turn the screws at the right pace and the tension amps up particularly with the usual thriller time constraints. Add to this mix the fact that the main kidnapper and his second in command are estranged brothers and the stage is set for fireworks. Does Derelict deliver on its promise?

The answer is yes but with a couple of caveats. The opening shots of the film set the tone immediately. These are beautifully composed shots of the derelict building empty. It emphasises that the silence and emptiness will soon be interrupted. The gang themselves are introduced in the next scene in a van as they drive towards the building. There are the two brothers J (Michael Bates) and Davey Boy (Steve Gunn) who are sitting up front. Their conversation is fraught and realistic in a very impressive way. There are also the two other guys in the back of the van (who know their place instinctively by being in the back): D (Gerry Shanahan) who is the older robber who should have retired and lastly Tone (Patrick O’Donnell) who is the younger guy with a line in dark humour. This scene is important as not only does it set up the characters it is also one of the only scenes set outside the derelict building.

This is one of the main problems for me. Although I am sure that the film is kept at the building for both budgetary reasons and to amplify the feeling of claustrophobia I did find myself longing for even a small flashback scene to take me out of it for a couple of minutes. This leads onto the other problem I had, namely not having enough invested to care about the wife and daughter tied up. I can’t help thinking that a small flashback scene to develop the family characters (much like the scene in the van establishes the kidnappers) would have benefitted the film greatly. These are minor gripes as the film does work overall.

Much of the fun to be had here is in the relationship between the two brothers and the younger hothead. These scenes crackle with both a sense of dread and dark humour. This is particularly true with J and Davey Boy’s interaction. There is an authenticity here that adds layers to the film. This relationship is superbly written and nicely acted and it is what gives the film its heart, momentum and (as mentioned previously) its tension. The young guy baits the younger brother constantly with some gloriously offensive stuff to see if he snaps and it is very funny. More happens in the film than I want to mention but suffice to say that the kidnapping gets extremely complicated.

The finale of the film is well staged if a little talky as characters give their reasons for why they are doing what they are doing. It is an interesting angle and perspective that chimes with our times but it is slightly over emphasised. Production values are very good for a low budget film and the set is very effective in this regard. There is an effective and edgy soundtrack by Dermot O’Mahony. Overall this is a fine low budget thriller effectively directed by Frank Kelly that doesn’t outstay its welcome. There are big budget thrillers that I wish I could say that about.

Derelict is being shown at the Droichead Arts Centre on January 12th.

droicheadartscentre.ticketsolve.com/shows/2013/1/12

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