Dir. Agnes Merlet. 2008. France. 102 min.
An isolated Irish island whose wary residents don't like outsiders - or any developments in interior decorating since 1920 or so - is the creepy setting for supernatural thriller Dorothy, Agnes Merlet's first film in 11 years. Placing a female psychiatrist from the mainland in a close-knit, religion-addled community of the sinister, this well-cast and evocatively-filmed English-language production gamely toys with genre structures, but, despite the strong craft on display, remains tantalizing without ever being truly satisfying.
One thing is a standout, however - stage-trained newcomer Jenn Murray. Her tour de force performance as Dorothy - a lass who may have psychic powers - is nearly as impressive as Edward Norton's memorable turn in Primal Fear. Box office returns on this Wicker Man throwback should be acceptable, as it's the sort of film where most audiences are content to go along for the ride.
In order to make a professional evaluation of Dorothy, psychiatrist and textbook city slicker Dr Jane Morton (Van Houten) takes a ferry to the island village where the 15-year-old girl has been accused of having violently molested an infant while baby-sitting.
Jane drives her BMW off the boat only to be forced off the country road and into a lake by a car containing three punky teenagers, two boys and a girl. Jane, who barely escapes drowning, is told that nobody on the island fits the description of her assailants.
Dorothy is a fragile-looking youngster whose blonde hair is so pale the next step would be white who has been raised by her devoted aunt (Ryan) since her mother died. Dorothy says she was nowhere near the baby and that nobody listens to her. Meanwhile, Jane meets fire and brimstone clergyman Ross (Lewis), who also doubles up as the windswept village's schoolteacher and doctor. The woolly sheep in his jurisdiction end up slaughtered by mysterious forces and his human flock isn't faring much better.
The ferry only serves the mainland once or twice a week and it's nearly impossible to get any sort of telephone service. The villagers, including the youngish sheriff Colin (Wilmot) keep suggesting that Jane leave immediately for her own good. But the more she learns about the
facets of Dorothy's personality, the more she digs in her clinical heels. Of course, her judgment may be affected by the fact that she's sleeping poorly at the local inn because of the cacophonous electric guitar music that materializes from nowhere each night.
Dutch actress Van Houten - Black Book's siren in her first of several upcoming roles in English - convinces as a compassionate shrink with at least one small skeleton in her own closet. But 'Colin, some evil shit is going on' is not the sort of dialogue any actor, however skilled, should have to deliver.
Few films have topped the original The Wicker Man in the stonewalling-an-outsider genre and while Dorothy achieves a sustained air of sinister collusion, not everyone will find the double denouement worth waiting for. (UK viewers as well will be reminded of TV sitcom Father Ted and its Craggy Island setting).In France, where this opens August 6, Merlet will get points for attempting an intricate story revolving around a medical condition that is a staple of Ango-American films but doesn't officially exist in French medical nomenclature. And Merlet does get in some good digs at the dangers of organised religion when it's too 'organised.'
DP Yorgos Arvanitis' widescreen filming of locations in Wicklow, to the south of Dublin and in Donegal, is a plus.
Octagon Films Ltd
+ 33 1 53 01 50 20
Carice Van Houten