Court-appointed psychiatrist Jane Van Dopp (Carice Van Houten) travels to a remote island off the Irish coast to work on the case of Dorothy Mills (Jenn Murray), a troubled teenager accused of molesting and trying to kill a young baby. After narrowly surviving a car accident, Jane finds herself amidst an unwelcoming, deeply religious community governed by Pastor Ross (Gary Lewis), who doubles as town doctor as well as priest. Her encounters with a nervous, edgy Dorothy convince Jane the girl is suffering from an extreme case of multiple personality disorder. However, as the days unfold, Jane is haunted by visions including those drawn from her own tragic past, and comes to suspect that Dorothy’s affliction has more to do with the supernatural…
This French-Irish co-production is an intriguing psychological ghost story, even if aspects of its jigsaw-like plot seem derivative. Horror fans will recognise key elements like the pub full of grim-faced locals hiding a nasty secret (An American Werewolf in London (1981)); the outsider at odds with a community governed by strange beliefs (The Wicker Man (1973)); the parent haunted by the ghost child in a distinctively coloured raincoat (Don’t Look Now (1973)); and the fatal car crash that leaves restless spirits to wander about a small town (Carnival of Souls (1963)). However, French filmmaker Agnès Merlet - whose last notable work was the feminist artist biopic Artemisia (1997) - and her co-writer Juliette Sales spin their potpourri of influences into a chilling portrait of a community willing to sacrifice the innocent to preserve their cloistered existence.
Merlet is rather better at teasing out psychological intrigue than at mimicking the flashy shock-horror tactics of contemporary genre hacks. Despite a few lapses, her low-key direction guides us ably through a mystery as murky as that windswept Northern Irish coastline, with occasional subtleties and oddball touches like the thrash guitar only Jane can hear coming from the room above and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trickle of blood from a bathroom tap that foreshadows Dorothy’s revelatory nosebleed. Although well acted by its mostly Irish cast, the film benefits enormously from the delicately etched performances of its two leading ladies. Carice van Houten - the Dutch star of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book (2006) - is fast becoming one of the most interesting actresses on the international scene and makes a compelling lead.
Jenn Murray, recently seen as a machinegun-toting little girl in the BBC’s Day of the Triffids (2009), gives remarkable assured and intense performance(s) transforming from the frail Dorothy into a pixyish three year old, a promiscuous delinquent and no less than two different teenage boys - one gentle and kind, the other foul mouthed and abusive. While scenes with her thrashing in bed and spouting obscenities can’t help but recall The Exorcist (1973), it is to Merlet’s credit that the film goes in altogether different direction and deserves some praise for its quietly harrowing and unique resolution.