Dark Lies the Island: It looks good, they act well, but it doesn’t work

Review: Everyone involved is doing decent work, but the picture doesn’t hang together as it should

Dark Lies the Island: the script is adapted by Kevin Barry from his own stories

Film Title: Dark Lies the Island

Director: Ian Fitzgibbon

Starring: Pat Shortt, Charlie Murphy, Peter Coonan, Moe Dunford, Tommy Tiernan, Aisling O’Sullivan, Jana Moheidan

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 87 min

Wed, Oct 16, 2019, 14:00


If domestic literature is to be believed – and it may be – the average small town is home to whirlwinds of decadence and intrigue. The Gothic nightmares of Mitteleuropa have nothing on the depravities of Pat McCabe’s grim universe.

Adapted by Kevin Barry from his own stories, Dark Lies the Island offers another compendium of local outrages for local people. Directed by the reliable Ian Fitzgibbon, the film cloaks its interweaving narratives in a persuasive oily light that suggests submersion in the neighbouring deathly lake.

A strong cast works hard at heightening already gamey characters. But the picture doesn’t hang together as it should. There’s more atmosphere than there is cohesion. There’s more noise than there is sense. A little bit of trimming and tidying would have left us with a more satisfactory midlands nightmare.

That lake sits grimly beside the unhappy town of Dromord (actually the blameless Boyle), which, like locales in so many westerns, is largely in the control of one sinister family. Pat Shortt is typically persuasive — melding coiled menace with bleak comedy — as the dominant Daddy Mannion, whose surname sits above every second business in the town: pubs, estate agents, undertakers.

He is currently married to the younger Sarah (Charlie Murphy) who was once partner of his son Doggy (Peter Coonan). That nutter, all bluster and blather, operates assorted dodgy enterprises from a caravan buried in the sort of woods from which ogres once emerged. Elsewhere, Moe Dunford is in charismatic form as the thick-as-turf Martin Mannion.

Into all such places a stranger must arrive. In the case, it is the peculiar Richie (Tommy Tiernan) and – there being no gold deposits in these here frontier lands – he has to settle for running the local chip shop.

Dark Lies the Island is a peculiar exercise. Everyone involved is doing decent work in their own cubicle. Cathal Watters’s camerawork is a standout.

Coonan and Dunford hack away gleefully at their grotesques. Young Jana Moheiden deserves particular acclaim for her sure turn as the daughter of Daddy and Sarah.

Yet this impressive work fails to impose order on a too-busy melodrama that flails in a hundred directions without locating enough forward momentum. A bit of a shame.

Opens on October 18th