Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Daisy Chain

This 2008 horror movie is unusual on several counts. Firstly, it takes fairies seriously, possibly for the first time since J.M. Barrie. Secondly, it's set on the west coast of Ireland - an excellent location for many reasons, but well off the usual horror film path. Thirdly, it's a co-production between several worthy agencies, made with the support of the BBC and its Irish counterpart, RTE. Fourthly, both writer and director are female. Given these facts, you would expect something a little different from the average gore flick, and you'd be right.

The premise is simple. A young Anglo-Irish couple return to the husband's home village because life in London has become unbearable following the death of their daughter two years' earlier. Samantha Morton's character, Martha, is now heavily pregnant again. She and Tomas (Steven Mackintosh) move into a house outside the village, near the cliffs, and discover they have some rather odd neighbours. There's Sean Cryan (the excellent David Bradley), a cantankerous Auld Fella who lives in a tumbledown shack. Then there are the Gahans, a young couple with two children. Their oldest, Daisy, seems troubled, perhaps autistic, but from the start she forms a bond with Martha.

The film is well-crafted in terms of the script and visuals, and the on-screen talent is impressive. It's also somewhat surprising in its approach to the supernatural. I assumed that, at first, we'd be left in some doubt as to Cryan's insistence that Daisy is a changeling with dangerous powers. Instead the viewer is left in no doubt at all that she is not a normal human being, if she's human at all. An early scene in which she kills a troublesome social worker is quite emphatic about this. And that's not the first corpse by any means - there is quite a high death toll for a film that clearly sought to avoid any hint of schlockiness.

Given that we know what Daisy is, one might expect a certain loss of tension. But instead the effect is rather like that of the famous Twilight Zone episode based on Jerome Bixby's 'It's a Good Life!' - you find yourself anticipating, with eager dread, what evil trick the girl will do next. The twist, of course, is that at first only a few 'superstitious' locals believe that the little girl who likes wearing toy fairy wings is the real deal. Martha sees nothing but a troubled child and is determined to adopt Daisy when the other Gahans all die in odd circumstances. When, we ask ourselves, will she realise what's really going on? Suffice to say that the revelation comes far too late for Martha and Tomas.

I suspect some will see this film as an interesting failure - not quite a proper 'BBC drama', but not disturbing enough for the horror brigade. For me it worked rather well, stressing the the casual violence of which very ordinary children are capable, the often dangerous fantasies that adults project onto youngsters, and above all the capacity we have to ignore the obvious when it doesn't fit our world-view. Samantha Morton is excellent in the demanding central role, and as Daisy young Mhairi Anderson is very convincing, offering a solid example of 'less is more' acting. And you know what? Fairies are creepy, and no amount of Disney rehabilitation can hide that.


Martin Roberts said...

It worked for me too, David. Its had some rather poor reviews on IMBD, though I imagine many viewers were mislead by the awful cover art for the US DVD release.

valdemar said...

It's 'old-fashioned' in the sense that it takes the drama seriously. There are no nods and winks to the audience saying 'Yes, we know it's a silly horror film, but let's go with it and see what outrageous nonsense we can get away with'. I like that, as the faux-ironic but really very trashy and ignorant horror flick got old very quickly for me.

Aonghus Fallon said...

Just checked out the trailer, which looks interesting. David Bradley's take on an Irish accent is pretty good, too!

Interesting that you mention what I would regard as a crucial distinction between following through on a preposterous premise as opposed to having a basic contempt for it. I've been watching a sci-fi series recently, 'Fringe', which (despite being enjoyable) shows such a casual contempt for the genre to which it belongs that it's getting harder and harder to invest in the characters.

valdemar said...

With you all the way re: FRINGE. It's ludicrous in so many ways. I followed it to the bitter end, which was as every bit as dumb as I expected.

Aonghus Fallon said...

I just finished watching the fourth series (I bought the box sets)!

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