Rose Plays Julie is a 'deliciously nightmarish' independent Irish thriller
ROSE PLAYS JULIE (15, 120mins) Drama/thriller. Starring: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen
Directors: Christine Malloy, Joe Lawlor
FROM its intriguing title to its genre-bending storyline, Irish indie drama Rose Plays Julie is one of the most unusual, unpredictable and memorably unsettling films you'll see this year.
Writer/director team Christine Malloy and Joe Lawlor (Mister John, Helen) initially wrong-foot us with a glacial opening 15 minutes punctuated by long silences and lingering close-ups of blank faced veterinarian student Rose (Ann Skelly) as she works up the courage to call veteran actor, Ellen (Orla Brady), in order to discuss a mutual connection as yet unacknowledged.
It quickly becomes clear that, despite the two women's multitude of shared qualities – including a talent for taking on new personas – Ellen is determined to maintain the status quo, a rejection Rose takes hard.
The younger woman seems somewhat adrift, a lonesome, troubled figure haunting the halls of her university and student accommodation. Rose's emotional wellbeing is definitely not being helped by the grim study of how best to euthanise beloved pets and prized livestock.
Our sympathies for her situation are tempered somewhat by increasingly erratic behaviour: Rose appears to be stalking Ellen, actually going so far as to gain access to her home via devious means.
As viewers, we expect this situation to come to a dramatic head with the resulting fall-out and eventual resolution taking up the bulk of the film's remaining running time.
Wrong. The situation does come to a dramatic head, but Malloy and Lawlor cleverly use Ellen and Rose's effectively staged moment of confrontation – in which Skelly all-too convincingly conveys seismic emotional shock using only facial reactions – as a pivot point, unexpectedly pulling the story around from slow-burning emotional drama into psychological thriller territory.
Having already established Rose's effectively devious side, we're now onboard with her as she becomes the 'Julie' of the film's title – a woman with a newly awakened inner anger and vengeful purpose.
This time around, Julie has her sights set on getting close to a noted Irish archaeologist, Peter (Aidan Gillen), a superficially successful man hiding a darkness beneath his genial, media-friendly public persona.
"Inside me... it's not a very nice place," he remarks in a rare moment of candour – but there's some pretty disturbing ground to cover even before we get to that particular confession, as Rose/Julie must decide what exactly she wants from this man who has a dark hold over both her and Ellen – and how best to get it.
Clearly, another confrontation is in the offing, but just how exactly 'Julie' engineers it and what she will do if and when the moment of reckoning actually arrives is deliciously nightmarish stuff that will have you on edge of your seat even as you recoil from what's transpiring on the screen.
Even as we think we've caught up with where the film is going, Malloy and Lawlor manage to keep us guessing, further ramping up the tension as the story twists and turns towards a provocative and memorable climax.
Excellent performances from all three leads will keep you riveted once the story gathers momentum – so do give that 'slow open' a chance – while a hauntingly atmospheric score from Stephen McKeon syncs perfectly with the dramatic darkness at hand, its multitude of sustained, ringing notes highlighting the ripple-effect of past actions upon present and future events.
:: Rose Plays Julie opens at QFT Belfast today, see Queensfilmtheatre.com for tickets and times