Directed by Cathy Brady.
Starring Nika McGuigan, Nora-Jane Noone, Kate Dickie, Martin McCann and Olga Wehrly.
The story of two sisters who grew up on the fractious Irish border. When one of them, who has been missing, finally returns home, the intense bond with her sister is re-ignited. Together they unearth their mother’s past but uncovered secrets and resentments which have been buried deep, threaten to overwhelm them.
Cathy Brady’s feature debut is an emotionally raw look at two sisters struggling with the trauma of their past, played brilliantly by Nora-Jane Noone and the late Nika McGuigan, who sadly passed away last year at the young age of 33.
McGuigan plays Kelly, who crosses the Northern Irish border to return home having been missing for over a year. While staying with her sister Lauren, Kelly starts displaying challenging behaviour and bringing back past demons (their mother died under tragic circumstances when they were younger, and they’re both clearly still suffering from the psychological trauma surrounding the event). Wildfire is a film about learning to face your past before moving on to a brighter future.
The strangest aspect of the film is the political backdrop that surrounds it, opening with news stories discussing border issues in a post-Brexit Britain and casually reminding us of these tensions throughout. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this intention, but it never seems to go anywhere, nor does it connect with the central story in any meaningful way, which begs the question, why introduce it at all? The film’s politics simply feel more self-important than they do natural.
The main story arc itself isn’t short of issues either, littered with predictable moments and cliché characters, such as Lauren’s gossipy colleagues whose behaviour is so absurd that it borders on risible. It isn’t a film that’ll necessarily surprises its viewers, and one could argue that it also goes a little too far in the third act, perhaps trying too hard to make its point.
Where the film truly succeeds is in its central performances. Both McGuigan and Noone are terrific, selling their characters’ history with superb chemistry, both emotionally unstable yet demonstrably confident all at once. It’s these two talented, committed performers who are able to make the material work and ultimately elevate the film far beyond its flaws.
Brady is also creative in her direction, with a clever (albeit unsubtle) use of the colour red symbolising the film’s themes and her energetic camerawork perfectly conveying the agitated nature of the characters. It’s a fresh, artistic and stylish take on classic kitchen sink realism.
With Wildfire, Brady certainly proves herself to be a filmmaker with potential, but her screenplay and the story’s off-balance political backdrop are clear problems, both of which are thankfully masked by the strong sibling bond at the film’s core and the terrific central performances.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★