A Good Woman Is Hard to Find, 2019.
Directed by Abner Pastoll.
Starring Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, Andrew Simpson and Jane Brennan.
A recently widowed young mother will go to any lengths to protect her children as she seeks the truth behind her husband’s murder.
Director Abner Pastoll (Road Games) brings this year’s Frightfest to a close with a low-key chiller that melds social realist drama with grisly grand guignol, abetted at all times by a riveting turn from its central femme fatale.
In Northern Ireland, widowed mother-of-two Sarah (Sarah Bolger) is struggling to keep her family unit afloat, but that all changes when a local drug dealer, Tito (Andrew Simpson), forces his way into her home and insists on using it as a stash house for his wares.
Tito pays Sarah a cut to keep quiet, though his actions naturally draw the attention of the gangster he stole the gear from, Leo (Edward Hogg). To keep herself and her children safe, Sarah will be forced to resort to violent means and thoroughly reinvent herself in the process.
The political undertones of Ronan Blaney’s script are unmistakable, focused firmly on the plight of single mothers in working class Northern Ireland; background noise from TVs reiterates the torrid state of things, and a point is made to show campaigners shoving fliers in Sarah’s face several times throughout the film.
Pastoll deftly allows this to add crucial context to Sarah’s situation while never letting the message get in the way of the entertainment, nor a mordantly funny perspective, as evidenced by one sorrowful moment in which Sarah is too poor even to afford batteries for her vibrator.
But be clear – this is a dark, twisted and often nasty movie about a man forcing himself upon a woman in a very different way from the expected, and her vengeful reaction to both that and other men who try to take control of her.
Yet Pastoll steers far clear of feminist horror cliches by shaping his film around a number of delineated suspense set-pieces, emphasising the claustrophobic, boxed-in nature of Sarah’s unassuming home and the various terrors that end up lurking within and around it. Needless to say, things get unpleasant, and then they get more unpleasant.
Pastoll’s film wouldn’t be nearly as effective without its commanding central performance, where Sarah Bolger creates a suitably traumatised, frazzled protagonist who effortlessly earns the audience’s sympathy and endures a convincing transformation over the course of the story. Bolger’s two-hander with Simpson, who is also very good here, carries much of the film and ensures a constant air of unease.
Less successful is Hogg’s tonally off-kilter performance as the real villain of the piece, his campy, sarcastic turn feeling a little too close to cartoon for comfort, with his pedantic approach to vocabulary and various tics feeling like they belong in a different film altogether.
This is compounded by a fairly convoluted second-act twist-of-fate which causes Leo to cross paths with Sarah in the first place, yet Bolger’s work is captivating enough most will likely let it slide – not to ignore an ending that flirts with outright silliness, also.
Technicals and crafts work are meanwhile absolutely rock solid considering the price point; Pastoll’s coverage is discomforting and uses the clearly scant resources well, while a surprisingly dynamic musical score keeps things plenty taut.
With his second major feature, Pastoll confirms himself to be a capable helmer, though one can’t help but imagine the ending might’ve stuck the landing firmer had he penned the screenplay himself (as he did with his previous film). Nevertheless, Sarah Bolger’s magnetic performance anchors this nerve-rattling suspense thriller, even as a slow-creep of contrived storytelling threatens to derail the third act.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.