Dorothy Mills

Rural Ireland: Less like Darby O'Gill, more like Angela's Ashes.

 

My Alma Mater was very like  Mistkatonic University from  H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.  It was a major university in a creepy small town surrounded by an even creepier rural area.  In the vein of Lovecraft hero Randolph Carter, I was always up for  exploring  the foreboding town and its environs — from the morbid to the mundane.   I had heard that about ten miles out of town on the two-lane highway there was a fairly decent café.  I’m always up for a strange food experience, so off we went.

On entering the café, as the door closed silently behind me.  All  sound and activity in the dining room came to halt.  Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at us.  It felt like all the air had been sucked from the room.  An eternity later, the proprietor, a stocky woman with teeth like a jack-o-lantern, wordlessly seated us.  The place was furnished in a mixture kute kountry kitsch and something else . . . erm . . . something like how I imagine Rob Zombie’s kitchen might look.  At the next table sat a middle-aged guy, his hair combed in a greasy ducktail,  clearly wearing his best white tee-shirt, complete with a pack of smokes rolled in his sleeve.  He eyed-balled me balefully.  It could be worse, I thought.  At least I’m not stuck on an island with these people.  Which brings me to  Dorothy Mills, a creepy little movie where a woman gets stuck on an island with these people.

 

The movie opens with a lovely shot of waves crashing against the jagged rocks, establishing that we are not in Kansas anymore.  We  catch up with an old style Irish pastor delivering a sermon to his island congregation.  You can tell that they’re Irish and not Americans because Americans listening to that sort of a sermon would turn glassy-eyed from boredom, instead of looking scared and sad at the same time.  You can also tell they’re Irish because they’re dressed like hobbits but with shoes.   Clearly church and the accompanying harangue is the social event of the week for these people.  An event which Mom gets all dolled up, wearing her best head scarf, and Dad actually wears a clean shirt for a change.  Enough with the mockery, let’s get on with the story.

One couple, the Kearsleys, returns home after church to find the babysitter, Dorothy Mills (Jenn Murray), trying to shove a baby bottle down their infant’s throat and  throttling the life out it.  The baby’s father intervenes.  Dorothy pulls herself and the baby away, yelling in an unnaturally husky voice.  Even in rural Ireland, this sort of thing isn’t going to go unreported.  Jane Van Dopp (Carice van Houten), a psychiatrist, is sent from the bog city to evaluate Dorothy and report back with her findings.

Jane arrives on the island to find the locals extremely suspicious of her.  As she begins her investigation, the locals, particularly some of the men, begin to get more and more openly hostile.   It’s apparent that the simmering hostility is going to become open violence.  There is a confined, suffocating atmosphere on the island, generated from not only the remoteness of the place, but also in the character of the folk that live there.

As we get to know Dorothy, we can see that there is something very wrong with her.  The islanders clearly do not like her; though they are not exactly bastions of sanity and reasonableness, they are still reluctant to act against Dorothy.

Events unfold.   Flocks of sheep with turning up with their throats slit, odd rock and roll guitar music comes from nowhere and phantom cars go running people off the road.  The locals blame Jane, the outsider, for all the trouble, which really gets the pot boiling.

By the middle of the film, I still wasn’t sure what kind of movie I was watching.  Is Dorothy Mills an evil child who has her little island community shackled with fear?  Is Dorothy Mills a victim of her screwed-up island neighbors and their evil secret agenda?  Is there a rational explanation?  Or is there something supernatural at work here?  Writer/Director Agnes Merlet keeps every thing off-balance just enough so that you can’t get quite a bead on what happening.  Once you think you have a handle on what is going on, something pops up to throw things off-kilter again.   Dorothy Mills builds to its conclusion slowly, marinading the audience in its eerie claustrophobic atmosphere.  Merlet, artfully, doesn’t show her hand until the end.

I found the movie a little slow for my taste. That’s just me.

You might be thinking, “Huh, that’s all great, Cap’n, but is it really a horror film?”  Yes, I’d say that it is, but it’s different from most horror fare.   Usually in horror films you know who or what the antagonist is and often what they want.  In Dorothy Mills, you are given Dorothy as the antagonist as the beginning, but very quickly the doubt sets in and you begin to look at other possibilities.  In that respect it’s a bit like a mystery that keeps you guessing until the end.   Dorothy Mills relies on atmosphere and spooky disorientation instead of over violence and gore.  It sloooooooowly builds to a satisfying end.

The acting was superb, especially Jean Murray as Dorothy.  She was able to both elicit my sympathy and totally make my skin crawl.  Dorothy is a juicy role for a young actress and Murray, clearly up to the challenge, demonstrates the full range of her talent.  If this was a big budget American film, she’d have taken the Oscar instead of Sandra Bullock.

The screenplay and dialogue are well written. Agnès Merlet and  Juliette Sales have created a believable environment and populated it with people that behave in a realistic way, at least within the context of the story.  The bottom line is that Dorothy Mills is a creepy little horror story well told.  It has considerably more flavor and considerably less roadkill than the dinner we had at that roadside café in Lovecraftland.

Starring:

Jenn Murray
Carice van Houten
David Wilmot
Gary Lewis

Screenplay:
Agnes Merlet
Juliette Sales

Director:
Agnes Merlet

Three out of five Vincents

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