Review: Wildfire

Written and directed by Cathy Brady, the story of two sisters who grew up on the fractious Irish border, when one of them who has been missing, finally returns home, the intense bond with her sister is re-ignited. Together they unearth their mother’s past but uncovered secrets and resentments which have been buried deep, threaten to overwhelm them. Starring: Nika McGuigan, Nora-Jane Noone, Kate Dickie and Martin McCann.

Opening on a brief but effective exploration of The Troubles perfectly sets up the complex, layered story that is to follow, a drama that doesn’t ignore the effect of local history that lingers many years later. Moving swiftly onto a ragged looking Kelly (McGuigan), it creates an atmosphere of being vulnerable, exposed and lost, one that only gets more complicated as times goes on. It easily leads to a very intimate and personal tone, as it dives into the sisters’ relationship, it’s full of concern, worry and frustration but makes it clear that all of those emotions come from a caring, loving place.

Watching Nika McGuigan’s performance is shattering but knowing that she passed away not long after they made the film makes it all the more impactful, this character is such a perfect example of her sincere talent. Bringing forth a character with mental health issues is something that needs to be done carefully and respectfully, and McGuigan does exactly that, she captures such complexity and fragility while making her sympathetic and relatable. Pairing her with Nora-Jane Noone was a stroke of genius, they are unbelievably convincing as sisters, like two sides of the same coin, you can see the collective struggle within them both. Noone provides the more stable of the two but it’s gripping to watch her spiral when all the unresolved emotions of her childhood are brought to the surface, starting off so sturdy and slowly becoming a wilder, more open version of herself as she pushes through the struggle. Kate Dickie is a great addition to the cast but it’s a shame there isn’t a larger exploration of how her character is involved with their family to give her a larger role as it would have been even better to see more from her.

The direction captures that complex emotion extremely well, it adds almost a haunting quality, with this family who can’t escape from the darkness of the past. The cinematography balances the bleak with the picturesque in a very raw and down to earth way, it doesn’t try to escape the stark nature of the story. The editing adds a great deal of tension and helps to create a slow build to the story’s peak and revelation, it effortlessly keeps you hooked.

Wildfire is affecting, intense, intimate and full of raw emotion. McGuigan and Noone make a superb pair to lead this film, the complex characters they create and the vulnerability they bring to them is outstanding. This film isn’t afraid of discomfort, it brings through this story in a way that’s real and human, it’s not pretty or tidy, it’s messy, flawed and chaotic, Brady captures that so well, to strike at your very core with its visceral emotion.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Coming to UK cinemas from 3 September courtesy of Modern Films

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival’s ‘Dare’ strand

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