DIRECTED BY: Tom Sullivan
STARRING: Dónall Ó Héalaí, Saise Ní Chuinn, Dara Devaney, Michael McElhatton, Peter Coonan, Seán T. Ó Meallaigh, Eoin O’Dubhghaill, Dudura O’Gionnáin, Michael O’Chonfhlaola, Siobhán O’Kelly, Eimear Ní Mháille, Conal O’Céidigh, Elaine O’Dwyer and Elise Brennan
Set in Ireland, 1845, the film revolves around fisherman Colmán Sharkey, who takes in a stranger, Patsy, a former soldier, who arrives just ahead of the blight – a crop disease that caused the Great Plague, killing and displacing millions of Irish people.
Arracht is a haunting tale of overcoming grief and the fight for survival set in Ireland, 1845 on the eve of The Great Hunger. Colmán Sharkey, a fisherman, a father, a husband, takes in a stranger at the behest of a local priest. Patsy, a former soldier in the Napoleonic wars arrives just ahead of ‘the blight,’ a disease that eventually wipes out the country’s potato crop, contributing to the death and displacement of millions. As the crops rot in the fields, Colmán, his brother and Patsy travel to the English Landlord’s house to request a stay on rent increases that Colmán predicts will destroy his community. His request falls on deaf ears and Patsy’s subsequent actions set Colmán on a path that will take him to the edge of survival, and sanity.
Arracht, also known as Monster, is an Irish period drama written and directed by Tom Sullivan, marking his directorial feature debut. Set on the eve of The Great Hunger in Ireland, we focus on Colmán Sharkey, a fisherman who is tasked with taking in a stranger known as Patsy on the land. Patsy, a former soldier, warns them of the potato blight that is spreading across Europe will undoubtedly strike them. When the blight inevitably does arrive and begin to rot the crops in the fields, Colmán, his brother, and Patsy, decide to travel to the English landlord’s estate in the hopes of having him reverse his decision to have his tenants pay increased rates and that request is denied, the night takes a violent turn that leads to Colmán having to go on the run and seclude himself from everyone and fight for survival as The Great Hunger begins to take its toll on the locals and the country as a whole.
The official submission of Ireland for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category at the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards next year, spends the first act build tension across the board. Former Navy officer Patsy warns him of a blight that he’s witnessed making its way across Europe and that they will smell coming across the sea before it begins to effect their crops. While Colmán has a calm demeanour and is a respected member of the community and has a particular history with the landlord, Patsy is a steely figure with an air of unpredictability about him that makes for an interesting dynamic between the two when they eventually reach the landlord’s estate in the hopes of swaying his decision of increased rates. Once the night comes to a violent and explosive end, the remainder of the film takes on not just focusing on The Great Hunger, but rather the strength of the human mind and spirit, as we follow Colmán Sharkey living a painful life of solitude in a seaside cave, using his own boat, one of only ones to still have one, to scurry out to sea in the hope of obtaining fish to eat. There’s a time jump after the events of the landlords estate to throw us right into the peak of The Great Hunger taking its toil on everyone, but instead Tom Sullivan focuses on the mental scars Colmán Sharkey faces with the loss of his family, portrayed through voice narration rather than in a flashback sequence and, depending on the viewers preference, I found that to be a more effective choice in the story.
Shot on location in Lettermullan, Co. Galway, the atmosphere of the blight is captured well with the gloomy, grey landscape thanks to Kate McCullough’s cinematography work. What also makes the film so effective in its portrayal of the tragedy of their surroundings and the strength of the human spirit is conveyed through the score from Irish folk band Kíla, which at times is beautifully haunting, and the costume design by Clodagh Deegan are worth highlighting. Dónall Ó Héalaí gives a commanding performance as Colmán Sharkey, with Dara Devaney also giving a solid performance as Patsy, and young Saise Ní Chuinn also gives a very good performance as Kitty. There is a particular creative choice in the final act I felt hampered my experience somewhat and felt unnecessary given how the story concluded.
Arracht is a very atmospheric period drama with great performances from Dónall Ó Héalaí, Saise Ní Chuinn and Dara Devaney, a haunting score from Kila and a promising directorial debut by Tom Sullivan.