Monday, 8 September 2014

The Three Sisters

Director: Dáire McNab
Writer: Dáire McNab
Producer: Dáire McNab
Cast: Elliott Moriarty, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Neill Fleming
Country: Ireland
Year of release: 2014
Reviewed from: Online screener

An Irish giallo? Sure, why not?

While I’ve been banging on here about the British Horror Revival, I’ve largely ignored the similar boom in horror movie production across the Irish Sea (except in the cases of UK/Ireland co-productions and noting Irish films which lazy journos assume to be British).

Anyway here is The Three Sisters, And it is, frankly, brilliant.

Now, I’m no giallo expert and my knowledge of the genre doesn’t extend much beyond the early works of Dario Argento to be honest. But Dáire McNab (whose name has one of those weird Irish accents so is probably pronounced ‘Norman’) knows his stuff and has crafted an absolutely belting horror-thriller with an obvious but far from overpowering Italian influence. His aim is clear: “The Three Sisters is not an homage, it is not a pastiche. It is a straight-up giallo film, made with honesty and earnestness.”

Elliott Moriarty (who was in a stage production based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe) stars as Dylan who finds himself taking into his flat, and subsequently his bed, his ex-girlfriend Sarah (Gillian Walsh – not the Westlife wife). She is understandably shaken by the brutal and unexplained murder of her sister Emma (Selena Walsh), especially coming so close on the rather bloody suicide of her uncle (Henry McNab). It doesn’t help that her father (your man Giovanni Lombardo Radice: A Day of Violence, The Reverend) is bed-ridden, wasting away from cancer. Also into Dylan’s life comes a drily cynical, never-named Detective (an absolutely cracking performance from Neill Fleming, also in Bing Bailey’s comedy-horror Portrait of a Zombie and Jason Figgis’ vampire feature The Ecstacy of Isabell Mann) who is investigating the murder and its possible link to the suicide. And in the grand tradition of giallo detectives, he’s sure that something’s not right somewhere but he’ll take most of the film to eventually put his finger on it…

The Three Sisters is completely gripping: a horror-thriller that knows precisely what it’s doing and where it’s leading us at any given time. Dylan thinks that he can solve the mystery; Sarah thinks that he should be careful; the Detective thinks Dylan should leave it to the professionals; the viewer thinks that there’s more to all this than meets the eye. There’s a will-reading and a scrap of paper with mysterious hand-writing and family secrets. It’s pretty much everything you want in a movie like this. And yes, there’s a pair of black leather gloves. You can’t have a giallo without a pair of black leather gloves.

The acting is uniformly excellent, and McNab’s direction, photography and editing are all spot-on. The initial murder of Emma in particular is a beautifully constructed piece of horror-cinema. Most importantly, the script has been honed to perfection. Everything fits together completely logically and makes sense right at the end. That’s the hardest part in a thriller like this – making it make sense. There’s not a wasted word of dialogue, nor a scene that’s too long, too short or in the wrong place. Care has been taken and attention has been paid. This is film-making as a craft, and it has produced something thoroughly satisfying for the audience.

The title notwithstanding, it’s not Chekov. Sarah does have a third sister, Sinéad (Sinéad Moloney), who is menaced by a hooded figure in an underground car park, and also an unseen brother said to be in Switzerland. Jacinta McNab plays the siblings’ mother and Robert D Donohoe is Dylan’s mate Rob who takes over the running of the late uncle’s business. All the characters are believable, as are the relationships between them. The cast also includes Ciara Barrett, Emma Keaveney, Jack Nolan and Hugh Sullivan. Several of the actors were in Dáire McNab’s previous features The Farm and The Gingerbread Men.

McNab shot this for about four grand, operating as pretty much a one-man band, the only other credits being additional camera by Tom Rowley and additional sound by Andy Flaherty. The McNab boys – Dáire, Henry and Rory - collaborated on the special effects of the murders and suicide (or was it?). A hugely atmospheric soundtrack by Repeat Viewing also includes songs by Roison O and Tandem Felix.

The Three Sisters is one of those completely random films that just pops up in my inbox occasionally about which I know nothing in advance - which made it all the more pleasurable to watch. A gem of a film.

MJS rating: A

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