SXSW FILM 2012
By Don Simpson | March 18, 2012
Director: Kirsten Sheridan
Writer: Kirsten Sheridan
Starring: Seána Kerslake, Johnny Ward, Kate Brennan, Shane Curry, Ciaran McCabe, Jack Reynor, Deirdre O’Kane, Peter Gowen, Conor Neary
A claustrophobic chamber piece always teetering on the verge of combustion, writer-director Kirsten Sheridan’s Dollhouse is set in a single location over the course of one night. Dollhouse begins as five young juvenile delinquents invade a modern, bourgeoisie house on the Ireland coast. (We will find out soon enough how they knew the house would be vacant, and how they found the key to the front door so easily.) The teens promptly make themselves at home, immediately raiding the liquor cabinet and kitchen. On a steady diet of booze and drugs, they proceed to smash, deface and destroy everything in sight.
Jeannie (Seána Kerslake) almost immediately breaks off from the four others (Kate Stanley Brennan, Shane Curry, Ciaran McCabe, Johnny Ward), heading into a bedroom which — judging by the photographs hanging on the walls — turns out to be her own. Jeannie emerges from her bedroom in a flowing red dress that plays in sharp opposition to the rough and tumble attire of her mates. The others do not know what to make of Jeannie’s butterfly-like transformation; once they finally discover the truth — that this is Jeannie’s house — their confusion instantly turns to feelings of betrayal and anger. They begin to treat Jeannie differently once that they know she belongs to a different class.
Class issues become even more apparent when Jeannie’s neighbor Robbie (Jack Reynor) stops by to investigate the noise. Robbie hesitantly enters into the fold; first as a voyeuristic observer, but he eventually joins the machismo pissing contest of the bacchanalian party. Fueled by chemicals and hormones, the six kids jockey for the alpha position like a modern day adaptation of Lord of the Flies. With equal parts A Clockwork Orange, Romper Stomper and Kids, Dollhouse bounces between lower class rebellion and unbridled escapism. The destruction instigated by the four lower class kids serves as a bold statement against being disaffected and disenfranchised for the entirety of their lives; yet they are simultaneously reveling in the make believe extravagance of being kings/queens for the night. The turmoil in their minds is always apparent — do they want to play house or burn the house down?
Sheridan keenly captures the dialect and attitude of this particular subculture of Irish youth. It is also readily apparent that Sheridan has studiously studied the ebb and flow of youthful relationships, as Dollhouse showcases just how quickly allegiances are formed and how easily they dissolve. In Dollhouse, the six teens coexist as an amoeba-like form in which their social structure whimsically changes shape with elastic fluidity.
Seemingly out of left field, Dollhouse finds a way to conclude with a Biblical reference to the Nativity. If Sheridan is trying to surprise the audience with a closing dash of absurdity, it certainly works; but the drastic change in tone is a bit too heavy-handed for my tastes. Considering the extreme level of naturalism that Sheridan is able to achieve during the first 90 minutes of Dollhouse, I would have expected a much less miraculous conclusion.