The Banshees of Inisherin

by Toby Woollaston

Verdict: Fiddle-de-dee potatoes, ‘tus a feckin great film.

It would be too dismissive to call The Banshees of Inisherin—writer/director Martin McDonagh’s distilled period piece set on the fictional Irish isle of Inisherin—a simple blend of In Bruges and Waking Ned Devine. I’m sure some might see it that way, but Banshees’ craft registers more strongly than either of those films.

McDonagh’s In Bruges, my favourite of his films (at least, it was before this), also stars Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell. But where that film was populated with more complex characters and a curlier plot, Banshees sings a different tune. Certainly, the opening act will have you thinking it a lightweight Irish jig of a film. Don’t be fooled. Beneath the jolly exterior is a film that crawls into some fairly deep recesses as it sets about building a rich and pointed fable.

Farrell, whose expressive eyebrows deserve their own casting credits, plays Pádraic, a young, easy-going farmer who lives a simple life with his sister. Dark clouds begin to form when his best friend, Colm (Gleeson), out of nowhere, declares that he no longer wants Pádraic to talk to him. “He’s dull and I have no more time for it”, Colm says in a post-epiphanic moment of clarity. And that’s it—the simple beginnings of a comical but ultimately deep soul search.

Banshees slowly ushers in the island’s other inhabitants including the brilliant Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as the village idiot, but it never loses its focus on Pádraic and Colm’s fast-developing feud. About halfway through, despondency begins to creep into the film’s edges, shifting gears from a comedy to something far heavier as it explores how one man’s cynicism can curdle another’s “niceness”.

McDonagh displays a firm command of his craft here, choosing not to lean too hard on the film’s tonal shift. But it’s Farrell who truly makes Banshees sing, delivering McDonagh’s witty dialogue with comical buoyancy and then, later, bringing a quiet sadness to his performance.

At one point Pádraic’s sister points out that the book she is reading is a sad story, to which he responds with childlike simplicity “perhaps a sad book will make you sad”. Pádraic’s desperate battle to keep hold of his “niceness” (as he puts it) makes this bitter-sweet tale one of the most fulfilling films I’ve seen this year. McDonagh has delivered an utter delight.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.