Review: The Banshees of Inisherin

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The Banshees of Inisherin is an excellent film, though it does takes some processing– the kind of thoughtful processing that might be lost if you wait to see it streaming or On Demand rather than in a theater. It’s a dark comedy that goes pitch black as it provokes rolling waves of emotion that run the gamut from humorous quirk, to sadness, grief, despair and maybe a bit of hope. The film is beautifully shot–on the west coast of Ireland–and features awards-consideration-worthy performances from the leads as well as the supporting cast. So if you want to get a jump start on films that could make the short list for the Oscar pool, The Banshees of Inisherin needs to be on your radar.

The story takes place in 1923 on the fictional remote island of Inisherin. Civil war is raging on the mainland, but Inishirin is largely shielded from the strife as its inhabitants go about their daily routine. For lifelong pals Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), that routine typically includes a 2pm stroll to the local the pub to have a pint and shoot the breeze. Until one day, out of the blue, Colm tells Pádraic he no longer wants to be friends. Pádraic is stunned and confused, and apologizes for whatever may have pissed Colm off. But there wasn’t anything. Colm simply wants to cut Pádraic out of his life so he can devote whatever time he might have left on this Earth to loftier people and pursuits, including music for his beloved violin. Colm deems Pádraic too nice and boring, and maybe a bit dim. So what’s Pádraic to do? At first, he doesn’t take Colm all that seriously and chalks up his friend’s cold shoulder treatment to a phase that will surely pass. But Colm is dead serious–to the point where he issues Pádraic an ultimatum: leave me alone, or I will do something drastic. (I won’t spoil what that drastic measure might be).

The situation escalates and things get way out of hand (a pun you may or may not appreciate after seeing the film) as Pádraic’s distress devolves into anger.

The Banshees of Inisherin is, at its core, a painful break-up story, where you can’t help but root for some sort of reconciliation. The feud between the once-inseparable friends reverberates across the small island community, impacting others in direct and indirect ways. Chief among them: Pádraic’s sister and roommate Siobhán (Kerry Condon), who tries to play mediator and protect her kind-hearted brother from a downward spiral; and troubled young islander Dominic (Barry Keoghan), the son of an abusive policeman. Dominic is desperate to fill the friendship void for Pádraic, and maybe score some points with Siobhán. Also impacted: Colm’s dog and Pádraic’s miniature donkey, who both deserve supporting animal nominations.

The film’s offbeat title refers to a fabled ghostly figure from Irish mythology, and also comes into play with Colm’s musical ambitions. The physical embodiment of the banshee in this particular fable is Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton), a creepy old woman who lurks in the shadows and seems to take great pleasure in forecasting doom and gloom for the island and its peculiar inhabitants.

The Banshees of Inisherin was written and directed by Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) who also wrote and directed In Bruges, a 2008 black comedy drama crime caper that also starred Farrell and Gleeson.  The trio is adept at walking that fine line between comedy and tragedy. I laughed, I cringed, I cried.

Arty Chick weighs in:

I am in total agreement with Mainstream Chick. I have been a big fan of Martin McDonagh ever since I saw In Bruges and was happy to see the gang back together to make this thoroughly engaging film. I am sure there will be awards galore for the actors, the script, the direction. I’m also sure it would be better in a theater, but since I just watched the screener and loved it, I’d say don’t worry about watching on a smaller screen, though you may want to turn on the subtitles so you can make out the Irish accents from time to time. 

The film opens exclusively in theaters, in LA and NY on October 21, and in wider release on Nov. 4.

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