St. Patrick’s Day is approaching, which means the D.C. area is a little more Irish than usual. Thanks to the Capital Irish Film Festival, co-presented by Solas Nua and the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, you can find out that means more than getting drunk on stale green beer and vomiting in the street. If you’ve ever been to Ireland, it will not be a shock that these characters are warm, quiet, and self-deprecating. But there’s an edge to these films, too, and we don’t mean U2’s guitarist. Two of these films are thrillers, with creepy children and a serious attempt to reckon with the country’s problematic past. Ireland is often forgotten in the wake of England’s influence, and no matter the genre, that redheaded stepchild quality informs these films. They know they’re eccentric, and to their credit, they don’t care what you think about that.
The Drummer and the KeeperDirected by Nick Kelly
The Drummer and the Keeper is a feel-good comedy that is also a little frustrating. It is insightful about mental illness, giving the audience characters to care about, but it keeps them in a strict, ultimately unrealistic formula. Dermot Murphy is Gabriel, a rock ’n’ roll drummer with bipolar disorder. After a particularly nasty episode, he attempts to stay sober and has mandated exercise as part of his recovery. That is where he meets Christopher (Jacob McCarthy), a keeper (or goalie) with Asperger’s. They form an unlikely friendship, with the usual mix of highs and lows. It is perhaps reductive to say this film is a cross between Once and Rain Man, but director Nick Kelly does little to elevate the material from its obvious inspiration. The frustration is that he has a strong sense of Gabriel and Christopher’s nature—there is a tough scene where we consider just how easy relapse is for Gabriel—but he contorts the situations in order to tug at the heartstrings. A better, more daring film would follow these misfits to whatever unlikely, dark place their natures led them. Kelly instead opts for a contrived happy ending, and while the film goes down easy, it could have had more actual substance. (AZ)
Screens Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
The Hole in the GroundDirected by Lee Cronin
They say a mother bonds with her child the moment she discovers she is pregnant. The baby grows inside her, creating a connection and sense of responsibility that rarely waivers. The Hole in the Ground is about the nature of that connection, using a typical horror framework to explore a fear that’s primal and urgent. Seána Kerslake plays Sarah, a young woman who relocates her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) to a new school. There’s something creepy in the forest adjacent to her new digs, and after Chris goes missing in said forest, somehow he is not quite himself. Director Lee Cronin apes the “creepy kid” trope for all it’s worth, focusing on Sarah’s becoming increasingly aware that her son might be a macabre imposter. Unfortunately, the film falters because it relies so heavily on tropes. The kid is precocious and unsettling in exactly the way you would expect, and Cronin uses jarring music to telegraph every scare before it happens. Anyone with a passing familiarity of the genre will see the end coming a mile away, which is a shame since The Hole in the Ground does have a palpable sense of atmosphere, and committed performances. (AZ)
Screens Friday, March 1 at 9:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
Don’t Leave HomeDirected by Michael Tully
On the heels of Get Out, Don’t Leave Home is a horror film whose title also serves as good advice. Also like Jordan Peele’s megahit, writer and director Michael Tully shoehorns ambitious themes into a genre framework. His slow-burn story considers the nature of faith and whether bad priests are worthy of forgiveness, and his restraint is downright admirable. Our entry point is an American artist (Anna Margaret Hollyman) whose sculptures recreate infamous child disappearances from Ireland’s history. One such disappearance involves a disgraced priest in exile, and soon he invites her to his isolated country house so he can commission a new work. Nothing is quite as it seems, of course, and the artist uncovers the priest’s true, macabre nature. There is a lot of symbolism in Don’t Leave Home, and Tully keeps things at a gentle, almost lazy pace so you have time to consider it. Impatient viewers may yearn for the good stuff—there is a supernatural element to the film—but it has more interest in character than big horror set pieces. With more thoughtfulness than suspense, this might the rare horror film that non-fans may enjoy more than the diehards. (AZ)
Screens Saturday, March 2 at 8:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
Metal HeartDirected by Hugh O’Conor
You’ve got to roll your eyes when Metal Heart starts with narration about “the abyss” and then there’s a shot of a girl with black lipstick and a nose ring. This is Emma (Jordanne Jones), a high school senior who’s the fraternal twin of Chantal (Leah McNamara). The twins are opposites—whereas Emma is black-haired, dark, and “the weird one that everybody avoids,” Chantal is a sunny, popular blonde. (The filmmakers obviously don’t care about stereotypes.) When their parents leave them alone for a six-week camping trip, there’s bound to be tension, right?
Just in case the sisters butting heads isn’t enough, there’s plenty of ginned-up conflict to make up for it. Such as the stepfather of Emma’s best friend hating her for no good reason. And a mistaken love triangle, when in any adequate romantic comedy, the wrong guy/right guy dynamic would be plenty. Emma, despite her purported gothiness, falls for the straightest guy imaginable, while the goth guy/perfect match quietly pines.
Other elements include an infirm next-door neighbor whom the girls take turns caring for, a stolen savings account, and Emma’s band, who play a great song at a party despite never having rehearsed (also a plot point). Metal Heart’s worst sin is that it’s sloppy, with details that are either forgotten about or don’t make sense to begin with. But it’s occasionally funny and generally innocuous—just like Emma, though she tries so hard to traffic in the abyss. (TO)
Screens Sunday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.