Writer-Director Randal Plunkett’s The Green Sea takes us on a very human exploration into a troubled woman’s life portrayed brilliantly by Katharine Isabelle, this slow-burn drama that doesn’t take you down the road well-travelled – an intimate film that stays with you.
When a musician turned writer Simone (Katharine Isabelle), who is living a solitary life in the remote Irish countryside, gets in a car accident with a young teenage girl, known only as “Kid” (Hazel Doupe). Things begin to get stranger and stranger, and both their lives are about to change forever. Offering the lost teen a place to stay, the pair strike up an unlikely friendship, but who is helping who?
Katharine Isabelle gives a career-best performance as the haunted Simone. Her authenticity to the character is what carries The Green Sea to the success that it has due to its intimate setting. As we witness Simone’s arc Isabella convinces with ease as a woman who has genuinely gone down too far the road of self-loathing and self-abuse that it might be too late even with the Kids appearance. What shows most within Isabelle’s performance is how surprising it will be for some, here she is able to stretch her acting legs and she grabs the film with her presence from beginning to end. With a character like Simone, it could be very easy to play her in one way, yet the confliction shown by Isabelle in this physical role allows her to add another string to her already talented bow.
As Simone swings between moods, either in a drunken stupor or as a woman who is desperate for that light, that reason to venture back into the land of the living again, we are so engrossed by her. This damaged human just needs love and care like the rest of us. Despite all of the anger, there is someone who dreams to hope. It is an excellent and memorable performance from the Canadian, In other hands, Simone may not have worked as well as she is able to make her do.
All of Isabelle’s anchoring allows Doupe to shine just as much; while she isn’t given much dialogue, she emotes perfectly when required to further the story as the ever-watchful Kid. While Isabelle is all emotion and worn down rage, Doupe is allowed to be inquisitive and understated as she weaves her way into Simone’s life. As Isabelle and Doupe’s chemistry grows throughout the film, you never want their maternal relationship to end. Yet we have the suspicion that somehow, someway that it will.
While there is some wonderful work done throughout The Green Sea, it does tend to lean towards the cliché at times. For example, Simone, just beginning to feel more confident within herself and thus more socially outward, is brought back down to Earth in a scene that we have often seen in cinema—usually reserved for teen based films. It may not derail the film, but it does add a little disappointment that scenes such as that could not be a tad more creative in their workings as the film deserves moments that are less cliche.
Randal Plunkett breaks The Green Sea into a series of chapters that help encapsulate the progression or retreat of progression in Simone’s psyche, she is very much a character who can take two steps forward and one step back due to how fragile she has become. When the film focuses solely on the drama aspect of the story, it is wonderful and in truth, you could focus purely on that aspect and it would still be a great character study. The pacing allows us to gravitate towards it with ease. We watch this person who has gone through an unknown but evident trauma try to integrate herself back into society, even if this certain community is the wrong one to attempt it with. The Green Sea flits between its themes of self-forgiveness, acceptance and release of the past very well. Plunkett’s script, at times, is a thing to behold with its low key structure, as he builds his characters and the story on the little moments and interactions. Just when the audience begins to become comfortable with our surroundings and the situation presented before us, Plunkett throws in little curveballs in the shape of flashbacks and the like to keep us honest. It works to great effect and is used sparingly enough not to distract us.
Plunkett is also quite bold with his story for the vast majority of the run time as we are with Simone and Kid in the house. With a lead character who cannot control her spiralling emotions around a young teen, you become uncomfortable for them both. Simone at times becomes wholly unlikeable as she strikes out verbally and physically. So much is pent up with her character that Kid’s presence bursts it like a balloon again and again by doing the simplest and at times the most innocent of things, cleaning a kitchen should not send a person into a fit of rage. For Plunkett, this gamble pays off in a captivating manner thanks to the casting and well-worked dialogue, we know there is something deeply wrong with Simone to have her act this way.
We are conflicted as to whether Kid should make a run for it for her own mental health and the mystery as to why someone would willingly hang around such a broken stranger continually rises. He allows us to ask questions that are answered through little moments spread out in the film until the final act. This gripping emotional setup works so well, to the point that we relate to Simone greatly, we don’t want to leave this house as we can see how the two are bonding and how Kid is improving Simone. so when we leave the house, we feel unsure of what exactly will happen, and worry and stress begin to form deep in our gut. Not every character is as good-natured as Kid and knowing how fragile Simone is, we worry for her. Yes, the work by Isabelle and Plunkett has us worrying about a character who at first glance, we should feel conflicted about. When that realisation hits you, you figure out that Plunkett has us in the palm of his hand.
Hidden just under the surface but omnipresent throughout the film is the wonderfully understated score by Darius McGann that pushes you forward and impeccably compliments the characters’ emotions. The soft touches within the sound work lay a great foundation for Philipp Morozov’s lens to allow the visuals to breathe. As Simone struggles, we are kept at close quarters with her. We feel her isolation and self-imposed trapped feeling. She wants to hide away from the world yet is still conscious of it. However, as soon as she steps into nature, be it the woods or the beach Morozov and Plunkett have the camera practically run from her. This awakens the freedom Simone finally has, and as we witness her finally relax those shoulders and be more like the person she could be. This wider angle opens up thoughts of peace and hopefulness in Simone’s cramped closed-in world. Granted, it is a simple technique, but who is to say the simple stuff doesn’t remain effective. When well done as it is here, we become entwined with the characters and the story, and that is when The Green Sea excels.
There is perhaps an overreliance on the talents of Isabelle to carry the film despite the great script, but due to the small cast and intimate setting, she is a vital cog to the film, As said previously when we move away from the centered drama aspect of The Green Sea and more into the fantastical, it slightly detracts from what was given beforehand. Add in the heavy-handed narrative in the finale, and quickly, fault lines begin to appear. Randall didn’t necessarily need to show us as much of the built-in subtext as he thinks he needed to. The work done beforehand more than explains itself if you are concentrating enough. By forcing some of that final act upon us, he dilutes the overarching message of his film. Not that this ruins the picture, of course, far from it. It merely detracts from the good work done and causes us to lose precious time with these interesting characters that could have been better served elsewhere.
A slight complaint, yes, but make no mistake, this is still an excellent feature that succeeds on so many levels. A drama that grips you and with a compelling performance from Isabelle, The Green Sea is a film you should seek out.
The Green Sea is out now on digital platforms
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