When a film starts with an eerie composition, a richly colour graded intro in the woods, and the on-screen credit of the “scream queen” Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) written in bold, red typeface, there is little doubt that we are in for a sumptuous horror delight. But The Green Sea, the debut feature of Randal Plunkett, 21st Baron of Dunsany, goes a step further to deliver a strangely satisfying mystery drama without overdoing the tropes of the horror genre. Set in the countryside of Ireland, the narrative plays with the border between fiction and reality in the life of a recluse writer to map the contours of her memory, trauma, and healing process.
Simone (Katharine Isabelle), a former metal musician and writer, has chosen to stay in country isolation to pen down the sequel of her first novel after six years. With a shambolic lifestyle and chronic alcoholism, added with the reeling burden of a massive mortgage, she failingly pushes herself to write. However, things take a turn when Simone gets into a minor accident with a teenage girl (played by Hazel Doupe of Float like A Butterfly fame) while driving down from the nearby town at night. With her name and whereabouts remaining shadowy throughout the film, “the kid” starts living with Simone under helpless circumstances. Henceforth, their mutual interaction and bonding unfold a series of reminiscences, leading Simone to confront her dysfunctional past.
Isabelle’s convincing performance – carried out with a graveness befitting her role – fleshes out the moral ambiguities of Simone and her abusive self. She writes painstakingly with heavy metal tracks in the background, drinks coffee with vodka, wears baggy clothes, obsesses over her rattletrap jeep, and does not hesitate to light cigarettes near petrol pumps. It is a treat to follow the character and observe the subtle changes in her attitude towards herself and others throughout her bonding with “the kid”. From shouting slurs at strangers to having a panic attack before a date, Isabelle covers the character’s emotional spectrum with ease. Her eventual redemption in the film feels like a culmination of all that gory spectacle she went through in the Ginger Snaps series (2000-04), American Mary (2012), Torment (2013) and countless other works.
The film’s formal structure and editing rhythm correspond to Simone’s states of mind, saturated with epileptic flashes of past trauma, strange dreams, fragments from her writing draft featuring “the kid”, and visuals from spaces unknown. A host of peculiar characters with brief but powerful appearances, including the Kafkaesque figure of “The Collector” (Michael Parle), further add to the charming opacity of the story’s atmosphere. As the film progresses along with the characters’ developments, its design matures from the initial fragmentary form to a more stable pattern of cuts and continuity. It has an air of undeniable strangeness, even though shying away from the fantasmatic excess of Andrzej Zulawski (Cosmos) or Takashi Miike (Gozu).
Quite attractively, the film occasionally displays a B-grade spark with rare honesty. The dialogue appears spontaneous and not rhetorically superfluous as one fears coming across in psychologically invested mystery dramas. Moreover, Philipp Morozov’s camera attains a considerable degree of fluidity and openness in execution, sometimes adopting classically composed frames, sometimes with edgy angles, and often free-flowing. Plunkett and his team stick to no stylistic pretensions for achieving contemporary arthouse standards and do not try to mindlessly spice up their film with showy steroids. Instead, they listen to the heart of the story and proceed majestically.
The Green Sea is executed with passion and audacity, making it unapologetically original. The natural and the supernatural communicate without a fuss to spew an experiential journey for Simone and the viewers. Not everything in the story is present in concrete terms; what works in the relationship between “the kid” and Simone to eventually end the film with a hopeful note remains to be grasped. It is probably a part of the narrative’s unknown yet uplifting force. In a touching scene where both of them comfortably watch a television programme about the life cycle of turtles – a recurring motif in the film – the programme presenter comments on the newly hatched turtles returning to the sea: “How they find their way back is truly a mystery.”