Ronnie Peter Hanly Michele Michelle Houlden Frank Frankie McCafferty Joan Pauline McLynn Petey Mikel Murfi Kid Fintan Lee
A searing portrait of a marriage governed by psychological violence in a country with no divorce laws, “Guiltrip” is a powerful indictment of everyday imprisonment that marks a commanding move into the feature arena for debuting Irish television and stage director Gerard Stembridge. The uncompromising nature of the drama stands to limit its theatrical prospects to exclusive situations, but considerable attention should be generated by festival and quality small-screen exposure.
Directed with maturity, intelligence and unblinking focus, the film is basically an all-night session of intimidation, recrimination and deception on both harmless and reprehensible levels, reconstructing the previous day’s events in a mosaic of non-chronological flashbacks.
Army corporal Liam (Andrew Connolly) returns late and drunk one night to the housing-estate home he shares with his young wife, Tina (Jasmine Russell), in a working-class suburb of an Irish town. Fragments of his day are replayed, beginning with his appreciative observation of sassy Michelle (Michelle Houlden) , the sister of Frank (Frankie McCafferty), a junior soldier at the same military base. Uninvited, Liam tags along when Frank and his army buddy Petey (Mikel Murfi) head for the pub to meet Michelle.
A picture of Tina’s day also is assembled. She goes shopping and is dragged into an electronics store by her neighbor Joan (Pauline McLynn). The cheerily voluble sales clerk, Ronnie (Peter Hanly), turns up at the pub in separate flashbacks, as he’s also the devoted but thankless husband of belittling bad girl Michelle.
As the night wears on, tension between Liam and Tina dramatically peaks and subsides. His rough handling of their infant child sparks explosive conflict, causing her to barricade herself in the bathroom while he lays siege from outside.
Her offering of a gift — a portable CD player later revealed to be pilfered — serves mainly to fuel his paranoiac suspiciousness. This is manifested in his insistence on a recap of her movements during his absence and a grilling on her adherence to the disciplinary rule book he keeps, establishing the terms of their marriage.
Gradually, a clear outline of both of their days comes into view. In her encounter with Ronnie in the store and later in a fish-and-chip eatery, Tina seems to project onto the maddening nerd her longing for someone a little less off-kilter. Liam feigns protectiveness of Ronnie after his humiliating treatment from Michelle. He drives him home, then steals his car and pounces on his free-and-easy wife, with stunning results.
No promotional pamphlet for either marriage or small-town life, the film’s dark psychological brutality makes for tough, cogent, often chilling drama, given an extra dose of claustrophobic oppression by its situation within a Catholic culture where many of the most insidious social problems are cloaked in silence.
The standout work among a fine bunch of actors comes from Connolly, playing a quiet man of the most dangerous kind. The material frequently presents opportunities to stray into psychopathic grotesqueness, but with only fleeting displays of physically threatening behavior, the actor makes Liam a terrifying figure drunk on personal power.
Entirely avoiding histrionics, Russell fully communicates the hollow existence of a woman surviving a bad marriage as best she can, and Hanly injects judicious levels of humor into his almost pathetically buffoonish character. A lighter tone also is at work in the intriguing appearances of ginger-haired tyke Fintan Lee as a local street urchin who is both an innocent witness and a devious product of the unwholesome environment.
Made for about $ 1 million, the film is superbly shot by Eugene O’Connor, whose camera lurches into sudden spasms as Liam’s anger becomes more apparent. Brendan Power’s lazy harmonica tunes effectively contrast the drama’s sustained edginess.