Wildfire conflicts, there are moments that work tremendously, with great performances from Nora-Jane Noone and the late Danika McGuigan. Yet a disconnect arises and the emotionally connection there at the start of the film loses itself by the end.
Kelly (Danika McGuigan) was missing, believed dead. But now she’s back and the whole town is talking. Angry and confused, her sister Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) takes her in but finds herself increasingly torn between family loyalty and damage limitation: Kelly is unpredictable and the spectre of mental illness that dogged their late mother hangs thick in the air. As their bond intensifies, historic resentments give way to a shared need to confront the events that scarred them as children
A film about Post-Troubles Northern Ireland was always going to pique the interest of someone from the country. As it isn’t just another film about the Troubles (honestly there have been enough of those for a lifetime). But that one that features the trauma of the effects of it is fresh.
An interesting inclusion was a conversation in the warehouse in which Lauren works, a limping worker is mocked by a younger employee in front of 30 something Lauren and her older careworker. Aine has no thoughts as to why the person is limping and makes joke of a fake leg. She doesn’t fully comprehend the likely reason as to why this person only has one leg. Lauren whose father was killed in a terrorist bomb quickly and furiously storms off, with the older co-worker left to explain it to the clueless Aine.
This is an interesting topic to bring up because for most people born from the 2000s onwards, they will not have known anything first hand of the conflict in their own country. They are the first generation to be born away from constant bombings and murders. So their ignorance to the topic is higher than those born during it. It is a small but appreciative inclusion from Brady and one that she should be applauded on.
The sister’s obvious mental struggles are highlighted when they are together. Lauren bottles hers down deep within herself and gets by, despite losing control when Kelly originally deserted her. She is functioning well and appears to all around her content. Kelly on the otherhand, has obvious never coped after the loss of her mother to suicide and the damage of losing both her parents so long has caused difficulties for her throughout the rest of her live.
Kelly is almost feral in her actions, finding reasons to strike out at anyone and anything, with Lauren trying to look after her sister, but neglecting herself, both set down a mental spiral that they will struggle to get free from.
Danika McGuigan’s performance is breath taking and the ability to have the control she had throughout the film to rein herself in when required is immense. Nora-Jane Noone, continues to be consistently great as Lauren and has the task of being refrained and on the cusp of breaking down at a moment’s notice due to the shock, relief and dread of having her sister back with her. These are great performances that are sadly slightly undersold by the overall story.
The background noise regarding Brexit almost feels like filler here. While there will be obvious issues in the country regarding it and the border, it feels as if Brexit was going to have more of an impact on the story than it eventually does in the final edit as it is barely mentioned. The uncertainty of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the border is never really touched upon enough to warrant its inclusion here. This is disappointing as this would have been a very fresh idea to bring to the fore. Yet Wildfire is not the film to have that discussion, it has much more pressing matters to go forward with. Which happily it does, it is just a shame it was needlessly mentioned at all.
A biting and tense exchange in a pub is the essence of the issues the film has. It is a chilling and emotional scene for the sisters to confront the person that they do. You wonder where it will go and what the consequences are of their actions. Wildfire quickly distances itself from that exchange and moves on, as if that was just a quick moment to forget. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be. That exchange could be integral to the film if it is followed up on in some way. It isn’t and that disappoints that it is almost just utilised as an example of their continued spiral.
Brady’s touches of bringing in the dreamlike glimpses of the sister’s mother are very effective here, increasing the sense of dread that fills the two sisters lives, will they fall to the same fate as their mother? Has Kelly accidentally dragged her sister down with her? How we get to the ending is a tad strange and a simpler more effective route would have worked better.
Wildfire has potential to be something special. We are left with a slightly frustrating film that misses out on fully connecting with the audience emotionally. Perhaps Wildfire is just too close to me in the scope of the story, so I am not seeing it as clearly as I should. So much works well in the film and it is still definitely a success and a must watch, for Cathy Brady‘s direction and the performances alone.
To view more of our reviews as we cover the London Film Festival 2020, please have a gander below!