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Dollhouse

A night of partying turns into "Lord of the Flies" with pharmaceuticals when a bunch of kids invade a Dublin home.

With:
With: Seana Kerslake, Johnny Ward, Kate Stanley Brennan, Shane Curry, Ciaran McCabe, Jack Reynor, Conor Neary, Deirdre O'Kane, Peter Gowan.

A night of partying turns into “Lord of the Flies” with pharmaceuticals when a bunch of crazy kids invade a swanky Dublin home in “Dollhouse,” Irish helmer Kirsten Sheridan’s bumpy third feature. Although the young thesps, largely improvising their own dialogue, impress with spontaneous, kinetic perfs, Sheridan’s script piles one damn thing after another onto this melodramatic Jenga tower. “Dollhouse” should find enough auds willing to play along at home to make back its obviously low budget, but prospects offshore outside fest bookings look more iffy.

Eighteen-year-old Jeannie (Seana Kerslake) takes her gang of four friends — leader Eanna (Johnny Ward), femme fatale Denise (Kate Stanley Brennan), vulnerable Shane (Shane Curry) and amoral urchin Darren (Ciaran McCabe) — to a beachside house in the affluent Dublin suburb of Dalkey. It seems the owners are away on holiday, but Jeannie has worked out where they keep the front-door key. The kids are seemingly all working-class roughnecks, or “skangers” in the local parlance, from the inner city, and once inside, they take great delight in staging food fights, raiding the medicine and liquor cabinets, and drawing graffiti on the house’s tastefully austere white walls.

Soon it comes to light that Jeannie is actually the daughter of the people who live there, although she’s been away from home for nearly a year. The others become wary of her in light of this new information, and start teasing her in a way that borders on bullying. However, when Robbie (Jack Reynor), the clean-cut teen next door, drops in to see where all the noise is coming from, they transfer their verbal aggression to him, while also letting him stay and share their found stash of intoxicants. When it looks like things are about to get out of hand and turn violent, Denise uses her feminine charms to defuse the situation.

Helmer Sheridan, who’s shown an affinity for films about young people in previous pics “Disco Pigs” and “August Rush,” and her cast worked from a 15-page treatment rather than a proper script, planning things so that, amid all the freeform interaction, there would be a plot revelation roughly every 10 minutes. Unfortunately, that schematic strategy is all too irritatingly apparent. The final reels verge on ludicrous, and the ensemble, having done sterling work for the first two-thirds and delivered a convincing portrait of group dynamics among emotionally volatile teens, finally falter in their efforts.

Shot on a Red HD rig, the pic looks fine and features a plausible-sounding soundtrack featuring original compositions by Howie B alongside the sort of newfangled tunes young people like these days. Post-production team clearly spent a lot of time in the editing suite to create jagged cuts and woozy effects to reproduce the youngsters’ drugged state.

Popular on Variety

Dollhouse

Ireland

Production: A Factory, Lightstream Pictures production in association with the Irish Film Board. (International sales: Visit Films, Brooklyn.) Produced by John Wallace. Executive producers, John Carney, Lance Daly, Garrett Kelleher, Macdara Kelleher, Martina Niland. Directed, written, edited by Kirsten Sheridan.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Colin Downey, Ross McDonnell; music, Howie B; production designer, Emma Lowney; costume designer, Lara Campbell; sound (Dolby Digital), Kieran Lynch; re-recording mixer, Robert Flanagan; associate producer, Charlie O'Carroll; assistant director, Neil Winterlich; casting, Maureen Hughes. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 11, 2012. Running time: 99 MIN.

Cast: With: Seana Kerslake, Johnny Ward, Kate Stanley Brennan, Shane Curry, Ciaran McCabe, Jack Reynor, Conor Neary, Deirdre O'Kane, Peter Gowan.

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