Dune

Review by John Dugan

The highly anticipated Dune (Denis Villevenue, 2021) follows the young Paul Atreides (Timotheé Chalamet) as his clan, House Atreides, inherits the planet of Arrakis. This desert planet contains an invaluable substance known as “Spice”, which allows for interstellar travel. On paper, as a sci-fi epic being set on a desert planet with a supernaturally gifted protagonist, this may simply seem like a newer, shinier version of Star Wars (George Lucas). However the darker tone, grittier storytelling, and sheer scale gives it a feeling closer to The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson), while still allowing for Dune to have a sense of identity all it’s own.

On a technical level, Dune is a masterpiece. The sound design, one of the most prominent and strongest points of the films, is constantly prevalent and well executed. The cinematography is stunning and dynamic, without a dull moment to be found. The editing as well perfectly blends all these elements together, and the special effects, arguably one of the most important aspects of a sci-fi/fantasy film, are just as strong as the rest.

The acting throughout the film is very strong, particularly by Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica. Much of the film’s emotional weight rides on her performance, and her character’s ability to disguise emotion. The private moments we get with her show her to be fiercely caring, but also deeply fearful and admirably clever all at once. Ferguson was definitely the performance to pay attention to.

The biggest issue I had with Dune was the pacing. Like walking through an actual desert,
there were long stretches of time without action. A lack of action is easily forgivable if there are other events to keep the viewer entertained, but so much of the film’s run time is taken up by Paul Atreides’ dreams of Chani (Zendaya), as well as other visions. This is likely due in part to the fact that it is based on a novel, but all these factors cause the story beats felt strange and forced, with large bouts of action popping up suddenly with little to no build up.

On top of this, I felt myself constantly thinking the film was nearly over, when another bout of action would occur and I would realize there was still an incredibly long way to go before the films end.

As well, the sheer amount of times Chani as a character is shown in visions before she
actually appears is annoyingly high. While it’s clearly important for the viewer to understand she will be a significant character further on, in this film alone this set up causes her actual appearance and actions to feel very underwhelming. Besides a voice over at the beginning, taking her out of the film completely would have almost no impact on Dune besides shortening the two hour run time. This is not a discredit to Zendaya as an actress, but rather to whoever so desperately wanted Zendaya on the movie’s poster without audiences claiming she was only in the film for 20 minutes.

There is also something to be said for the “white savior” narrative the story seemed to be building towards, if not explicitly stating. As someone who has never read the books, I cannot comment fully on the extent of its prevalence, but much of the film seems dedicated to setting up Paul as a literal saviour to the citizens of Arrakis. Given that all the natives of Arrakis we are shown are cast as black actors, these casting choices coupled with the overarching story being set up for future films left an uncomfortable impression.

Ultimately, Dune is worth the watch if you are prepared for the long haul. It’s a definite must to see it in theatres, as the sound design is very integral to the film overall, and the visuals are best appreciated on the big screen. While there are most definitely problematic aspects, it’s a cinema experience worth having.

The Last Duel

Review by Sadbh Boylan

The Last Duel (Ridley Scott, 2021) sees writer-actor duo Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reunite almost twenty-five years after their first collaboration– Good Will Hunting (Gus van Sant, 1997)–  launched them to superstardom, this time joining forces with Nicole Holofcener to adapt Eric Jager’s 2004 historical page turner of the same name. The film follows the events that preceded the last legally sanctioned duel in France; namely, Jean de Carrouges’ (Matt Damon) challenge to former ally Jacques le Gris (Adam Driver) to a trial by combat following accusations of rape from his wife, Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer).  A tale of three chapters, new layers are unravelled as the ‘truth’ is examined from the perspectives of Carrouge, le Gris and- most candidly- Marguerite. Impressively, The Last Duel manages to handle its heavy subject matter with care and- at times- surprising nuance, striking a delicate balance between grandiose historical drama and thoughtful reflection that makes for compelling viewing.

While not lacking in impressive set pieces, it is The Last Duel’s study of the male and female experience and reflection on traditional patriarchal structures that elevate it beyond mere spectacle. Indeed, the film is most impactful when it is at its most subtle; slight variance in delivery and tweaking of dialogue according to each perspective speaks volumes without becoming too heavy-handed. Much of this comes to bear in the final- and strongest- chapter, ‘The Truth According to Marguerite de Carrouges’, credited to writer Holofcener. However, that it takes until the closing act for these discrepancies to truly resonate makes it all the more unfortunate that a larger portion of the running time (a hefty 2hrs 33mins) was not dedicated to Marguerite’s perspective. A greater allocation of time to Marguerite’s truth may also have helped to flesh out the underdeveloped female supporting cast- a glaring flaw in the storytelling that runs counter to its message of female empowerment. 

Fortunately, Marguerite herself is afforded more than sufficient depth, and dominates the third act courtesy of a powerhouse performance by Comer. Aided by focused direction from Scott, Comer shoulders The Last Duel’s most emotive scenes with magnetic presence. Damon and Driver likewise deserve merit for their portrayals of Carrouge and Le Gris respectively, with both actors effectively altering their performance according to the appropriate perspective. The most fun, however, was undoubtedly had by the unsettlingly blond Affleck, who isn’t afraid to dial it up as the extravagant Count Pierre d’Alecon.

It would be remiss to conclude without acknowledging that, aesthetically, The Last Duel is stunning. Scott’s signature attention to detail ensures each scene is as immersive as the last. Credit is also owed to the remarkable sound design that leans heavily into the diegetic sounds of the setting- the thundering of hooves, the singing of metal and crackling of fire- to craft a mesmerising soundscape that is best enjoyed on the big screen. In short, although not quite the ground-breaking triumph of Good Will Hunting, The Last Duel just about balances epic proportions and delicate themes, bolstered by immaculate visual detail, enthralling sound design and engaging performances. While it may not go down in history as Affleck and Damon’s magnum opus, the pair- along with Holofcener- should nevertheless be commended for successfully delivering spectacular Medieval action that carries the emotional weight of its central themes with unexpected grace.

Deadly Cuts

Review by John Dugan

When first watching the trailer for this film, I was worried that as an Irish film certain colloquialisms and phrases would be lost on me, an American viewer. I also think it’s important to acknowledge this, so that any readers can take that context into consideration. However, despite my unfamiliarity with what were likely easily recognizable sights, phrases, and events to an Irish audience, I definitely enjoyed my viewing of Deadly Cuts (Rachel Carey, 2021). The film follows a group of hairdressers as their business struggles to survive under the tyranny of gang leader Deano (Ian Lloyd Anderson), and aims to win the hairstyling competition “AHHHAIR!” in an attempt to get their salon on the map. Deadly Cuts was most definitely over the top in many ways, even for a comedy, but was also decently balanced with melodramatic– as well as heartfelt– moments. 

One aspect that I found myself bouncing back and forth on was the “camp-ness” of the film. At some points it felt perfectly in line with the direction the story was going, and over the top in just the right way that was believable. In others, however, it was oddly juxtaposed against the darker moments of the film. There were also certain aspects of the film that felt cheaply done, but this seemed more to do with the issues of budget than any lack of attention by the filmmakers. The acting within the film represented this “camp-ness” well, but once again felt oddly contrasted against the darker moments. The main cast consists of the four stylists, the salon owner Michelle (Angeline Ball), the central character Stacey (Erika Roe), Chantelle (Shauna Higgins), and Gemma (Lauren Larkin). Their acting especially came across as over the top, but in such a way that felt intentional, and was in keeping with the comedic tone of the film.

Part of what influenced my viewing of this film was having watched Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1989) the night before. If you’re a fan of this dark comedy, you’ll most likely enjoy Deadly Cuts as well. I found myself genuinely wondering if the filmmakers were inspired by the 80s teen dark comedy, as the more dramatic moments in the films felt very similar to each other. 

I do think, however, that by the end of the film the darker tones as well as the campy moments were tied together in a satisfying and amusing way. At the core of the film was the sense of community within a small town; so the anti-classist messages didn’t feel out of place in this setting. While Deadly Cuts probably won’t be the next Heathers, it’s a fun film to watch nonetheless.

Rose Plays Julie

Review by Róisín Ní Riain

Rose Plays Julie, the latest outing from writer-director duo Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, aims to disconcert. It goes about this mission from every angle. We glide from plot point to plot point with almost torturous slowness. Individual faces, figures lost in sterile space, and, in one scene, animal viscera hold our gaze past the point of comfort. Stephen McKeon’s excellent score leads with delicately unsettling bells and flutes before swelling into nerve-plucking drama with strings and operatic singing.

These horror-tinted trappings are brought to bear on a story of hidden identities and the repercussions of violence. Veterinary student Rose (Ann Skelly), adopted as a baby, is preoccupied with the life she might have led as Julie, the name on her birth certificate. Her search for identity leads her to contact Ellen (Orla Brady), her birth mother and a successful actor, who is unwilling to reconnect. But Rose proves tenacious, and when the pair come face to face, Ellen reveals a terrible secret that plunges her life into turmoil. Rose dons the persona of ‘Julie’ (and a terrible wig) to wrangle her way into the life of Peter (played with appropriate sliminess by Aidan Gillen). From there, the plot takes on the contours of a revenge thriller. 

Despite its potential for edge-of-your-seat drama, it’s this latter half of the film that is its weakest point. From the moment Rose/Julie approaches Peter, we can see where this is heading, lending what follows a terrible but compelling sense of foreboding. Yet despite the film’s otherwise glacial progress, at this crucial juncture it seems to lose its nerve. Rose’s entanglement with Peter proceeds almost perfunctorily, the anticipatory tension given too little time to simmer.

Peter himself also proves a problem. There are gestures towards his character — his hopelessly middle-aged golf posturing, his vanity regarding the cover photo of his new book, his loveless marriage — but never enough that we get a grip on his psychology. He’s too developed to convince as a one-dimensional villain, yet not developed enough to convince as a human monster. Frustratingly, the slightness of his characterisation hamstrings the catharsis the film’s conclusion is aiming for.

Rose Plays Julie’s flat notes are made all the more disappointing by the fact that what the film gets right, it gets really right. Skelly and Brady are mesmeric. As Rose, Skelly focuses the chilly eeriness of the film marvelously, conveying deep emotion with nothing more than a flicker of her eyes or the subtlest change in expression. McKeon’s score is absolutely essential in making the film work, elevating elements that would otherwise be heavy-handed – Ellen’s job being to act a part, Peter’s job being to dig up the past (Rose’s first glimpse of Peter as he quite literally washes his hands clean). At its best, the story manages to incorporate both contemporary relevance and a sense of timeless, almost archetypal, drama. There is plenty here to intrigue, if not quite enough to fully satisfy. 

The Green Knight

Review by Katie McKenna

I once heard a rule for watching films called ‘Shut Up It’s a Tuesday’, which tells you to ignore plot inconsistencies.  A lot of the best films have them. If the story is engaging it doesn’t matter. No one ever hears Charles Foster Kane say “Rosebud”, but that’s ok. The film keeps you so enthralled, you’re not thinking about the practicalities of this man’s death. Not every plot needs to be rock solid, but every film should make you care. Emotion is the foundation of the film. When that’s missing it exposes all the other flaws, and the whole thing crumbles. This is what happened to The Green Knight (David Lowery, 2021).

Based on a 14th century poem, The Green Knight follows Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) as he embarks on a quest to confront the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) in order to prove himself and fulfill his destiny. 

All the individual pieces of this film are all great. Patel’s performance is a tour de force. With a single expression he shows us all the holes in the brave mask Gawain is putting on. In the hands of a weaker actor, this role would fall completely flat. The cinematography is gorgeous as well, giving the barren fields of Ireland that we see every day a uniquely sinister feel; almost like it’s a character itself. In fact, there is nothing wrong with the film. There isn’t any specific flaw you can point out but The Green Knight just feels empty.

While I watched the film, I had a strange feeling deep down and afterwards as I walked home I tried to put a name on it. It wasn’t until the next day that I knew what it was: during the film I had felt nothing. The piece that made you care in the jigsaw puzzle of the film was missing. Gawain is set up as a classic anti-hero. He is someone who wants to be good but has something deeply rooted within him keeping him from being the person he wants to be. Yet I didn’t believe it. His choices felt calculated, intentional, and consequently very staged. Throughout the film I kept asking myself; ‘is this what Gawain would do, or what the plot needs him to do?’ The film never pulls you in, leaving you on the outside spotting all the holes in the story.

It’s easy to like The Green Knight, it’s an epic tale with beautiful cinematography and stellar performances. On the other hand, it’s hard to love it as The Green Knight seems to prioritise the wrong things making it less than the sum of its parts. When I think of my favourite films, I think of how they made me laugh or cry, those are the things that stay with you after you leave the cinema. And maybe when you watch those films, you’ll find mistakes and plot holes, but you know what, shut up it’s a Tuesday.

The Many Saints of Newark

Review by James Mahon

Fourteen years after the end of The Sopranos – arguably one of the best television shows of our time – comes a cinematic prequel, The Many Saints of Newark (Alan Taylor, 2021). The Sopranos as a series was defined by its piercing psychological examinations of its characters, its vivid mob life realism, and its startlingly original narrative. All of which are gapingly absent in this terribly disappointing film.

A lot was made of Michael Gandolfini reclaiming the role of his father, yet the film centres on his uncle Richard ‘Dickie’ Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). Taking place over an indeterminate time-period, the film follows Dickie’s trials and tribulations within the Sopranos gangster lifestyle. It touches on personal aspects of Dickie’s life, from his antagonistic relationship with his physically abusive father Aldo (Ray Liotta) to his fiery love affair with his ‘goomar’ Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi). It charts his rising conflict with disillusioned former associate Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.), and most importantly, his influence on a young and developing Tony Soprano. 

The most surprising aspect of The Many Saints of Newark is its artificiality. The crucial component to any gangster movie is its depiction of the interior and intimate camaraderie of those in a mob family. Martin Scorsese is the master at this; most obviously in Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 2021), but also in the brilliant closeness of Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973). This was the USP of The Sopranos itself, each episode emphasising the underlying bond between characters, making each betrayal more unbearable. This film’s failure to capture the spirit of its TV roots lies at its core with the screenplay. Lawrence Konner and David Chase (the mastermind behind the show’s creation) have produced a stultifyingly wooden script that neutralises any attempts at organic interaction or spontaneity. It is the ultimate sin – creating a setting and characters that are devoid of any substantive depth, leaving the audience uninvested and apathetic.

The film, at two hours long, is relatively short for one situated in the mob environment. Think of epics such as Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984), or more recently The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019). Still, its runtime should provide ample space for a comprehensive and well-developed story to emerge – look no further than Donnie Brasco (Mike Newell, 1997). Sadly, this is not to be. The film feels strangely rushed and predictable. Predictability is not necessarily a bad thing: it can show that filmmakers have established a contextual groundwork in which the audience can invest themselves and logically follow to its conclusion. Yet the overabundance of plot points and their condensed nature, results in less than cardboard-thick characters and seemingly absurd motivations justifying their actions. Film criticism has been rightly upbraided for its director-auteur centric approach and underappreciation of screenwriters’ contribution. However, this film is indicative of how a poorly written screenplay can permanently impair a movie’s chance at success, despite the director’s efforts.

Directorially, Alan Taylor does little to impress. The inventiveness of the show’s episodes is replaced by a nuts-and-bolts cinematic feature. Attempts made to delve deeper into Dickie’s psyche are distinctly ineffectual. There is one fantasy scene which tries to evoke Dickie’s desire for simple validation and approval, mirroring the fantasies of De Niro’s character ‘Noodles’ in Once upon a time in America. Its sole use as a narrative technique renders it bizarrely out of place in a largely linear format. This sums up the extent of the director’s ambition. There is no allegorically ambivalent, Leone-like lasting shot, nor are there any Scorsese moments of hyper-caffeinated claustrophobia-inducing tension. There is, of course, no need to parrot the stylisations of other directors. I only reference it as I fail to identify any distinct identity emanating from this film.

As a prequel, The Many Saints of Newark will appease fans who will derive satisfaction from being able to enter the Soprano universe once again and enjoy the subtle easter eggs it presents. The acting is decent given the constraints of the script, Nivola excels and Gandolfini seems to be a carbon copy of his father. Nonetheless, as a stand-alone film, it is conspicuously below-average.

Annette

Review by Luke Bradley

From minute one, thanks to an electrically-meta opening musical number (‘So May We Start?’) Annette (Leos Carax, 2021) has you hooked. Whether or not you’re along for the ride becomes clear quickly, but it’s nonetheless a testament to the film. Every sequence, every song is charged with a wildly unique blend of emotion, passion, and zaniness. It’s rare to be able to say that a film is unlike any you’ve ever seen before; it’s even rarer for that to be a positive note.

The brainchild of the Mael Brothers – members of the legendary pop group, Sparks – Annette is the love story of Ann (Marion Cotillard) and Henry (Adam Driver). Both are on their own personal journeys and career trajectories as they welcome their child, the eponymous Annette. As with every musical, virtually every word uttered throughout the film is sung, and – considering the two-plus hour runtime – you’d think that you would feel the length. That’s perhaps this film’s greatest achievement: not once during this film did I feel its runtime. The film doesn’t give you a chance, and I mean that in the best possible way. Every aspect of this film is wacky, hilarious, and shocking all at the same time, and I was along for every minute of the ride.

Driver and Cotillard are both exceptionally good, rising to the challenge of brilliantly daft screenplay with mesmerising results. Their relationship serves as the heart and soul of the film, and every mad twist and turn they take is conveyed thrillingly. The film’s editing is equally as erratic, yet once again I was completely in love with it. Director Carax demonstrates an awe-inspiring harmony with Sparks’ writing. Annette exemplifies the definition of a ‘winning formula’, and one that definitely just shouldn’t work. If you’re familiar with Sparks (I wasn’t until I watched Edgar Wright’s fantastic The Sparks Brothers documentary, also in cinemas now), then you’ll know their style of music: energetic, snappy, and unapologetically eccentric. One wouldn’t think they’d be an appropriate pair to write the music for a satire filled with operatic love songs, but it just works.

This is undoubtedly a polarising film – fiercely mixed reactions emerged from its premiere at Cannes in July (where Carax won Best Director). Not everyone reading this review will like the film – in fact, I’d wager some of you will hate it. It really is love or hate. It asks huge leaps from the viewer, and spends no time holding your hand as it tears through its bonkers narrative at breakneck pace. But I wouldn’t have the film any other way. 

You haven’t seen a film like it, and you probably never will again – that’s an intimidating notion. If you don’t take to its style and story right out the gate, then you’re in for a rough time. But if you go in ready for a wild ride – and this film is so, so wild – then you’ll have a blast. If, like me, you’re playing the original soundtrack on repeat afterwards, then the film has undoubtedly done its job. 

The Nest

Review by Mia Sherry

“You’re just a poor kid pretending to be rich.” So spits Carrie Coon’s icy matriarch Allison to her husband Rory (Jude Law). Sean Durkin’s The Nest is summed up in so many words, but don’t let that put you off– the deliciously lavish story of dizzying wealth to bare-knuckled poverty is as enjoyable for its performances as it is for its generic but equally as enjoyable story.

The Nest follows Rory and Allison as they uproot their family from the utopian suburbia of East Coast America to Surrey, England. Rory is a business man whose previous luck in the stocks is beginning to dwindle and Allison is an equestrian trainer; their lives are filled with the casual luxuriance of the economically comfortable– modest backyard pools and horses and French press and industrious but vague connections “across the pond”. However, their move to Surrey turns what presents itself to be a run of the mill family drama to the most fantastical mix of The Amityville Horror meets The Great Gatsby. 

This yuppie horror– a delightful concoction that dabbles between the supernatural and gender roles and economic classicism– is a slow but tension filled burn that epitomises the “show don’t tell” approach that Durkin has mastered in previous films like Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011). Durkin’s experiments in silence and sound with both inventiveness and flashy showiness pays off; instead of being a shallow attempt at subversiveness, The Nest’s soundscape is one of its strongest stylistic features. As for the humongous Surrey mansion in which The Nest is based, there is surprisingly little made of its cavernous size– but when the camera does turn inwards to its hallowed halls what results is some of the most memorable moments the film offers; as Durkin lurks into its corners and shadows. 

It’s hard not to watch The Nest and look at Rory as some kind of kind of continuation of the kinds of characters that dominated Law’s early career– Dickie in The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella, 1999) and Brad in I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russel, 2004). Alas, the tables have turned for the Talented Mr. Greenleaf in this Pinteresque saga, but Law’s downfall into poverty is no less enjoyable to watch. However, his performance is not only complimented but bolstered by Coon’s presence– the same emotional coolness that left her mark on The Leftovers is equally as intriguing to watch alongside Law as the life they knew crumbles around them. 

The Nest is a truly wonderful film with a kind of narrative lushness that harkens back to the days of yore. Partially a horror, partially a drama and largely an eagle eyed critique of classicism and misogyny in 80’s London, The Nest is one of those films where the less you know, the better– just let yourself be carried away to the English countryside. It might not be a happy story, but it surely is an exhilarating one. 

Censor

Review by James Mahon

Embodying the chilling effects of Dario Argento’s horror subgenre ‘giallo’ thrillers and the voyeuristic sensibility of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960), Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond, 2021) is the feature length directorial debut of Prano Bailey-Bond. The film is a welcome addition to the cannon of inventive horror movies that not only depict gory violence but examine why we watch it. 

It is the mid 1980’s in Britain and the ‘video nasties’ debate is at its height. The low-budget horror movies containing scenes of severe and pornographic brutality are causing widespread outrage among the media and public about their effect on ‘impressionistic young children’ and their blending of ‘fact and fiction’.  Interacting directly in this environment is our chief protagonist Enid Baines (Niamh Algar). As a strict film censor, Enid is committed to eradicating as much barbarity and savagery as possible in a desire to protect society from their pernicious influence. That is until she comes across a film that seems to re-enact her sister’s disappearance at the age of seven, an event which has traumatised Enid ever since. From this point onwards the stability of real life starts to unravel as Enid rapidly descends into an ever-increasing hysteria. 

Credit must first be attributed to Bailey-Bond, her cinematographer Annika Summerson and production designer Paulina Rzeszowska, whose combined efforts produced an omnipresent atmospheric unease and tension that did not falter from beginning to end. Achieving this, was the deliberate textured gloominess of the frame’s composition, the constant close-ups of Enid’s facial contortions and nervous tic and the gloomy stagnancy of virtually ever setting from the film censorship office to the public underground. The filmmakers went as far as shrinking the aspect ratio to spatially communicate the declining lucidity of Enid as time progressed. This is not to mention Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch music, which seemed to pervade and intensify every shot, echoing Argento’s masterpiece Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975). 

Like contemporary horror movies such as Jordan Peele’s US (Jordan Peele, 2019) or Ari Aster’s Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019), Bailey-Bond’s film accomplishes the fiendish challenge of convincingly displaying the fraying of society’s conforming forces on the main character. Yet on a more profound level this is utilised to convey the film’s underlying message. Although separate and with drastically different motivations, Enid is similar to Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm) in Peeping Tom, an artistic tool used to question the factors that compel us to watch and engage in these visual narratives. Is it a desire for escapist fantasy? Or a hidden pleasure we derive from accessing someone else’s world unbeknownst to them? Or perhaps a combination of both? The film’s ending hints at an answer without being definitive, leaving it to the audience to speculate and interpret. 

This review cannot go on without mentioning the performance of Niamh Algar. Her portrayal of Enid is superb, selling the viewer utterly on her characters’ fall into delirium and hallucinatory righteousness. 

Nonetheless the film is not without its blemishes. It is too short at 84 minutes, whether down to the script or financial constraints, the dramatic effect would have been enhanced if there had been a more prolonged balance before its decisive tonal change. Ultimately though, Censor is a brilliantly crafted and refreshingly thought-provoking horror movie. 

The Boys from County Hell

By James Mahon

Mixing horror with comedy has never been particularly well executed in the modern film industry. Although an appealing combination, most directors and writers don’t seem quite able to create the correct blend of fear and laughter, often resulting in a total absence of both. The trio of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright are members of a select few who have succeeded. Films like Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007) evoke the gory reality of the situation with a sense of self-acknowledged absurdity and a convincing emotional narrative at its centre. The distinctly Irish Boys from County Hell (Chris Baugh, 2021) attempts to follow in their footsteps.

Set in the bleak Northern Irish town of Six Mile Hill, the film centres on Eugene Moffat (Jack Rowan), a 20-something slacker with little going on except an acute fondness for a pint at the local village pub, appropriately named ‘Stoker’. With his mother dead, and a consequently strained relationship with his father, Francie (Nigel O’Neil), his universe centres around his friends William (Fra Fee), Claire (Louisa Harland) and the garrulous SP (Michael Hough). Much of their time consists of scaring tourists, who they take on a tour to the town’s lone attraction, a bundle of rocks above the ground, underneath which the true original vampire Abhartach lives – or so the myth goes.

This is indicative of what the film claims is its unique selling point; its Irish twang, counterpoised with the recycled and generic settings of other vampire films. It emphasises its possession over Abhartach as not ‘any old Dracula’ almost immediately, with Eugene quickly informing us of Abhartach’s transformation from medieval chieftain to immortal, bloodthirsty vampire. This authentically Irish aspect is the centerpiece of the film’s attempts to elevate itself above the homogeneity of its competitor’s output. There is no denying that it offers a refreshing spin on the genre, albeit perhaps not one as groundbreaking as the filmmakers think.

Making further use of its geographical setting, the dialogue consists of the typical Irish humour, accompanied by incessant expletives. This is not a fault of the script, written by Baugh and Brendan Mullin, which is genuinely funny. David Pearse’s cameo as a serenely detached local policeman is wonderfully droll, complemented excellently by O’Neill as the productivity-obsessed Francie. Yet it’s Hough who provides most of the comedic relief, as the quintessential pint-loving acerbic Irishman, although Baugh and Mullin just about avoid caricature and self-parody in the character’s construction.

Nonetheless, the film’s core relationships – stripped of the surrounding horror – are repetitive and mind-numbingly monotonous. The freshness of the Irish setting cannot obscure the predictability of the main relationship arc with Eugene, as he searches for paternal validation from his grieving father. Simultaneously, characters do well to convey distress at certain twists throughout the film, yet the lack of any exploration of these twists above a superficial level undermines its legitimacy in the viewer’s eyes. Fundamentally, the film fails to expound upon the substantive thematic tensions and character interactions which are at the heart of any movie.

Although not particularly innovative, The Boys from County Hell is genuinely scary. While it’s overly reliant on traditional jump scares, the gory vampire imagery and verifiably evil depiction of Abhartach conjure up a level of complete immersion and believability in the threat faced by Six Mile Hill and its residents. Ultimately, The Boys from County Hell succeeds in its dual objectives of horror and comedy, with a revitalising element of ‘Irishness’. However, the hollow emotional core provided by its central figures proves to be its Achilles heel, ensuring that it falls short of the great contemporary comedy-horrors.