THE SECOND feature from Tom Hall begins with one of the most startling sequences in recent Irish cinema

Directed by Tom Hall. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Luanne Gordon, Patrick Ryan, Kelly Campbell, Owen Roe, Brendan McCormack 18 cert, lim release, 104 min

THE SECOND feature from Tom Hall begins with one of the most startling sequences in recent Irish cinema. A young farmer, tending uninterested sheep in a field, bends over a pornographic magazine and, ahem, spills his seed into a conveniently situated bush. He then progresses home to find that his infirm father has died while descending in his stair lift. Calmly, still sipping his tea, the protagonist lifts the remote control and signals the lift to continue its aborted journey.

The opening third of Sensationis a terrific piece of work. Regrouping after 2009's less than satisfactory Wide Open Spaces, Hall offers us a sex drama that is almost Austrian in its queasiness.

Donal, the ragged hero, played with aching pathos by a faultless Domhnall Gleeson, spends his free hours grazing the internet for comfort and stimulus. Eventually he plucks up the courage to phone an escort from New Zealand (likeable Luanne Gordon). Their meeting is a tour de force of discomfort: she doesn’t expect to have dinner, but he’s not leaving without eating his chicken Kiev. After a few liaisons, the two decide to set up an escort business.


Using the sort of behind- shoulder stalking shots that characterise the Dardenne brothers’ work, Hall and his cinematographer, Benito Strangio, make an impressively creepy nowhere of their midlands location.

The awareness that Donal’s upbringing has crushed his potential – in a less constrictive locale he might have been a ginger Banderas – adds a real sense of hopelessness to the grim preamble.

Unfortunately, the film gets a bit lost when it goes on to deal with the accidental entrepreneurs' business. Nobody is likely to confuse this singular film with Pretty Woman, but the later stages do tell an all too familiar story: the lonely John who falls for the decent, more worldly prostitute. Reminders (intentional or not) of Robert Bresson's work in the final scene don't quite save the picture from a lunge into sentimentality. A very intriguing piece for all that.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist