Monday 20 April 2020

On demand: "Extra Ordinary"

Every five years or so, the local industries gift us with a comedy dark horse: a film that arrives in cinemas with scant pedigree and no fanfare, but which demonstrates more wit and invention than those much-trumpeted studio list items that had five or ten writers labouring on them at considerable expense. After 2006's The Gigolos, 2011's Black Pond and 2016's The Young Offenders, the latest of these very pleasant surprises is Extra Ordinary, a supernatural horror-comedy that revisits many of the tropes associated with this genre - nodding in passing to such landmarks as The Exorcist and Ghost Busters - but does so in order to put a distinctively Irish twist on them. For starters, its haunted house of choice isn't some sprawling country pile, but a common-or-garden semi-detached being bothered twice over. It's being haunted by the late wife of its current occupant Martin (Barry Ward, from Jimmy's Hall), who's taken an altogether aggressive approach to watching over her man; meanwhile, the couple's teenage daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) is being eyed up as a potential sacrifice, not by otherworldly forces, but Christian Winter (guest star Will Forte), an American rockstar and amateur Satanist who's moved to Ireland for tax purposes. The exorcist pitched into the middle of all this tumult isn't as gravely imposing a figure as the late Max von Sydow, but Rose (stand-up Maeve Higgins), a dippy driving instructor who's inherited some of the gifts of her late father, a TV parapsychologist, but who only really agrees to get involved with an eye to getting into Martin's trousers.

Writer-directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman have a lot more plot than money to work with, in other words, but they turn that cheapness to their considerable comic advantage. Anybody coming here looking for million-dollar phantasmagoria should walk on; the hauntings here are wholly parochial, a little bit crap, and roughly ten times funnier for that. We get a spate of unusually animated recycling bins; the spectral spouse yanks a plate from a dishwasher because it's been put in the wrong slot; while a flashback returns the heroine to the scene of a haunted pothole, not the first or last time Extra Ordinary might set you in mind of Father Ted. Not having to worry about the VFX schedule frees everyone to instead build up the characters and relationships, chiefly a winning second-chance romance between the leads, threatened by third parties and Rose's decision to deploy Martin on the supernatural frontline as a vessel for catching spirits. (Ward must spend 25% of the running time retching ectoplasm into a jam jar, not the smoothest of looks for a romantic prospect.)

Despite that underlying, partly improvised development, the film still feels more ad hoc - agreeably ramshackle - than pre-planned or focus-tested, governed above all else by a tremendous sense of mischief. You really do sense Ahern and Loughman are here to have fun within this genre, even if that means throwing out or scribbling over the supernatural-movie rulebook. That may be why the narrative takes so much on - eventually making the daughter as well as the house subject to demonic possession, sketching in a subplot about Rose's pregnant sister and her budding relationship with a county councillor - and why the film keeps finding its way towards offbeam rhythms and leftfield punchlines, stopping one scene dead so that Christian (another solid entry in Forte's ever-expanding gallery of preposterously pompous bellends) can struggle to pull on a pair of velcro driving gloves. (Like many other beats and details here, it goes to character, but Ahern and Loughman insist on taking us round the houses first.) Scene by scene, Extra Ordinary is so cherishably underplayed you wonder whether the big finish traditional to this genre will be beyond either its frame of reference or budgetary means, yet the directors have their own, amusingly alternative idea of a climax, with a semantic argument over who counts as a virgin playing out around a gaping CG portal to Hell; it is, at the last, a very Catholic haunting. Spirited stuff all the same, demonstrating more personality than any number of Conjurings.

Extra Ordinary is now streaming via Netflix.

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