The Green Sea **
Dir: Randal Plunkett. With: Katharine Isabelle, Hazel Doupe, Michael Parle, Dermot Ward. 104 mins. Cert: 15
Who knows what this says about industry accessibility, but here’s a rare chance to see a genre movie directed by a certified peer. Randal Plunkett – 21st Baron of Dunsany, profiled in these very pages last weekend – has taken leave from rewilding his garden to turn out a literary chiller about the relationship between a boozy blocked writer and the itinerant waif she takes in after a drunken car shunt. It’s the kind of potential aristocratic folly that’s meant to have critics (and left-leaning critics in particular) sharpening their knives. In fact, though it’s not devoid of first-feature fumbles and stumbles, and carries over the movies’ traditionally wobbly sense of How Writing Gets Done, its stronger stretches invoke a wintry atmosphere that suggests Plunkett has spent his leisure time in the library with many of the right ghost stories.
The smartest choice was made during casting, with the drafting of Katharine Isabelle, Canadian star of the Ginger Snaps trilogy. Lending heart and spirit to Plunkett’s troubled scribe Simone, a snarly recluse in death-metal T-shirts that scream “keep your distance”, Isabelle also fosters a credible sisterly bond with newcomer Hazel Doupe; her response to news that her houseguest-turned-home help is a boyband aficionado proves winningly tart. Plunkett needs her, because his plot is heavily backloaded. For over an hour, we’re puzzling over a sometimes indifferently paced character study, interrupted by jolting, decontextualised flashbacks, and brief cutaways to spooky figures spaced out along a distant shore (a possible crib from The Innocents), who represent either past trauma or nastiness lying in wait ahead.This deferral tactic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means there’s a lot riding on the final half-hour, when someone asks “what’s going on?”, and Plunkett has to explain himself. What he lands on is surprising, more eccentric than the film’s immediate influences would indicate, a touch clumsy around a pivotal reveal, and bound to set some viewers asking questions the director doesn’t want to answer (or never asked himself). In the moment, however, it sorta-kinda works emotionally, bolstered by the leads’ growing rapport, and cinematographer Philipp Morozov’s big-picture exteriors. Plunkett may well have resources enough to give himself a second shot behind the camera; his debut, the image of a flawed-but-intriguing, two-and-a-half-star mixed bag, offers a fair bit to build on.