A kind of “Enfants Terribles,” Irish-style, “Disco Pigs” reps an interesting but flawed feature debut by Kirsten Sheridan that remains perilously poised between the poetic and the whimsical, and only fleetingly attains the magical-realist tone for which it strives. This ultimately rather unpleasant tale of two teenagers raised in adjacent homes who inhabit a closed, potentially violent world of their own, will have limited appeal outside festivals and specialized locations, though Sheridan, 23, daughter of writer-director Jim Sheridan, clearly shows talent worth monitoring.
Enda Walsh has considerably broadened the scope of his 1996 play, which was set during two nights in the lives of its lead characters. Starting out with their birth, and later incorporating flashbacks to their childhood and expanding the action from their home in Cork, on the southern coast, pic seeks to draw a complete portrait of the protags’ lives to explain the mysterious bond between them. Unlike the leads in Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1950 French classic penned by Jean Cocteau, they are not actually brother and sister.
Born on the same day in the same hospital, and even sharing adjacent cots, Sinead (Elaine Cassidy, from “Felicia’s Journey”) and Darren (Cillian Murphy, from the legit version) nickname themselves “Runt” and “Pig,” snort at passers-by, and imagine themselves Queen and King of Pork City. The two 16-year-olds go to bed holding hands through a hole in the adjoining wall of their homes.
Given Murphy’s intense, brooding perf as Darren, it becomes clear early on that we are to witness a downward spiral into violence as their insular relationship is threatened by the outside world. The pair takes delight in starting brawls in a local disco, with Sinead dancing with a guy and then secretly signaling Darren to “rescue” her. The local authorities finally put a stop to their “unhealthy” relationship by transferring Sinead to a special institution in Donegal, way up north.
Sinead teams up with another troubled teen, Mags (Tara Lynne O’Neill); meanwhile, the distraught Darren takes a train to bring Sinead home. At this point, pic momentarily hits its magical-realist mark, as Sinead, through some mystical bond, actually senses him coming.
However, as the third act unspools back in Cork, the cycle of violence becomes deadeningly predictable. Sheridan does her utmost to give the story a cinematic texture, but the film’s basic emotional arc remains extremely small.
Both leads are individually fine, with Murphy dark and short-fused, and Cassidy the more romantic dreamer of the two. But for a movie, there’s too little natural chemistry — and too much emotional space — between the roles as written. It becomes increasingly difficult to believe why the more grounded Sinead sticks so long with the basically psychotic Darren.
Lensing by Igor Jadue-Lillo is consistently bright and sharp, and running time admirably tight. Irish accents are often very strong and could cause trouble for some audience members.