REVIEW: Wildfire [LFF 2020]

Wildfire is a film that warns about the impact of unresolved violence.

After years of living hand-to-mouth, under-the-radar, Kelly (the late Nika McGuigan) is going home. Home for Kelly means a small town on the Irish border. The Troubles may have ended, but the wounds have never fully healed – at all, it seems, for Kelly.

Her sister Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) is doing better. She has a home with Sean (Martin McCann) and a job at a huge, impersonal delivery hub. Kelly’s unexpected return destabilises that.

The film seems initially to be a study of contrasts between the manic, scattered Kelly – bright eyes and hollow cheeks belie a life on the edge – and the repressed, hyper-focused Lauren – whose glare is a deadly weapon. But writer-director Cathy Brady subtly erodes the barrier between the two.

Both their lives are punctuated by flashbacks to their mother, who died under mysterious circumstances – accident or suicide? Her red coat remains a present-day totem of the trauma they share

Lauren’s resistance is slowly eroded and Kelly’s impulsivity is catching. One astonishing sequence sees the two sisters in full swing at a local watering hole. Dancing to Van Morrison’s Gloria, they writhe and thrash, strutting and retreating, back and forth under the neon like twisted mirror images. Later they run through the streets, clambering over cars, to the sound of approaching sirens; aggressively carefree.

More than this, Brady deftly sketches a community where everybody immediately knows “Your Kelly’s back”, but a colleague’s missing leg is referenced only in hushed tones.

Crystal Fournier’s cinematography gives the impression of faces perpetually lit by firelight and Matteo Bini’s editing brings the story into sharp relief as Lauren and Kelly fracture. Gareth Averill and Matthew James Kelly’s thrumming, heartfelt score illuminates the drive and depth of feeling that propels increasingly reckless behaviour

Wildfire shows us what we do to keep the peace, even to ourselves. It’s a striking debut for Brady and should, if there’s any justice, light a spark on a distinguished career in features.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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