(aka Dorothy Mills)
Directed by Agnès Merlet
When I received the screener for Dorothy (2008), I had the pleasant experience of sitting down to watch a film I knew absolutely nothing about - I hadn't heard of it or seen the trailer, and had no cover art or blurb to tell me what to expect. What I saw was an absorbing, original film with a slowly unfolding plot reminiscent of The Orphanage (2007), and one which definitely delivered in terms of atmosphere.
In a small, isolated community in Ireland, a couple returns home to find their babysitter, a fifteen year old girl called Dorothy (Jenn Murray) doing…something to harm their baby. We aren't shown what it is at this stage, and the action cuts immediately to a mental hospital on the mainland, where a Dr. Jane Morton (Carice van Houten) is absorbed in newspaper reports about the 'psycho babysitter' - it falls to her to intervene in what could otherwise be a criminal case by assessing Dorothy's mental state. She travels to the island but, before she can get to the town, her car is run off the road by a car full of teenagers. She emerges from the water unscathed, but it is obvious from the people who come to her aid that the townsfolk's attitude towards her is ambivalent at best and downright hostile at worst (try not to recognise several of the villagers from the sitcom Father Ted; this may diminish the suspense for a while!)
Despite this atmosphere of palpable resentment, the next day Dr. Morton goes to interview the family of the baby Dorothy assaulted and, via flashback (a technique used throughout the film to great effect), we see what Dorothy did. The baby's family are adamant that Dorothy is a dangerous menace - but when the doctor goes to interview Dorothy herself, first impressions are very different. A striking-looking, vulnerable girl, Dorothy is adamant that she didn't do anything to hurt the baby. In fact, she says wasn't even there. The plot thickens. No sooner has Dorothy impressed Dr. Morton with her mildness than she changes and becomes aggressive - it's obvious that, in order to assess her, the doctor is going to have to build up a bond of trust with the girl. Her task is made more difficult by the insular nature of the townspeople - who believe Dorothy is a medium rather than mentally ill - and by constant harassment from the teenagers who ran her off the road when she arrived, although no one in the town will admit to knowing who they are...
From here on in Doctor Morton struggles to make sense of the situation she has found herself in, whilst simultaneously struggling against her own emerging demons. Is Dorothy a medium after all? - She seems to turn into Doctor Morton's recently deceased son before her eyes - or is the doctor suffering mental illness of her own? Is there something about the place itself that is wrong? To truly help Dorothy, she has to investigate the conspiracy of silence in the town. Both the lead actresses here help the film achieve its ever-building impact. Jenn Murray's performance, in her first film no less, is a memorable one and the different personalities she portrays are really quite startling. By no means a straightforward villain, Dorothy Mills is ambiguous and complex and that ambiguity is further reinforced by the partial physical transformations we see when she changes personality: it is probably deliberately unclear whether she actually changes, another facet of the film's enjoyable strangeness. Carice van Houten is also excellent as a rational person trying hard to support a vulnerable child under increasingly disorientating circumstances.
In many ways the film plays on a familiar riff: an isolated community which wants to keep its secrets at all costs, and a tension between insider and outsider which harks back to The Wicker Man and other films. It's been the bedrock of many horror movies, but Dorothy places an interesting spin on the idea of old-meets-new, by conflating modern psychology (the idea of Multiple Personality Disorder) with the old ideas of mediumship, or maybe even possession. The character of Dorothy sits ambiguously in the middle and, despite the film having lots of plot elements on the back burner throughout (which at some points threaten to fall apart) the audience must wait until the final moments to really find out what is going on. This is skilfully done, well worth sticking with, and the way the film uses its series of staggered shocks is really effective.
This is definitely a film for those who would happily trade off high-octane action for slow-burn suspense, and if you like supernatural horror, there are plenty of chills to be found here. I was drawn into this film from the outset; it's an original which kept me engaged throughout. It's also interesting to see a truly pan-European production, with a French director, a Dutch leading lady and an Irish setting.
The colouration of the film is clear and suitably drab thanks to the blue tones of the often murky Irish weather - with an audio choice between 5.1 Dolby Digital or English LPCM (the Dolby sound was generally good but slightly muffled on deeper voices). For extras, there is a trailer (which gives an impression that the film is fast-paced and doesn't do it adequate credit!) and a 25 minute 'Making Of' documentary which looks at some of the technical details of filming scenes, as well as an interesting set of interviews with director Agnès Merlet and the lead actors.
Review by Keri O'Shea
|Released by Optimum Home Entertainment|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|