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The Banshees of Inisherin

A still from the movie "The Banshees of Inisherin" featuring Colin Farrell and Kerry Condon.
Colin Farrell and Kerry Condon star in a scene from the movie in "The Banshees of Inisherin." (OSV News photo/Jonathan Hession, Searchlight Pictures)

NEW YORK (Catholic Review Media) – There are some things to celebrate but others to bewail about “The Banshees of Inisherin”(Searchlight). In fact, this bleak combination of black comedy and rural drama incorporates elements that make it acceptable for only a small number of grown movie fans.

Set in 1923 on the imaginary Irish island of the title, the film focuses on the friendship between two of its residents, amateur fiddler and composer Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) and farmer Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell). When, after years of shared daily trips to the local pub, Colm abruptly ends their relationship, Pádraic is bewildered by this wholly unexpected turn of events.

Though Colm eventually explains himself, claiming that Pádraic’s conversational dullness is cramping his style and interfering with his creativity, his pal not only continues to brood about the cause of the mysterious breach, he refuses to accept that their bond is at an end. Whereupon Colm threatens a drastic reaction if Pádraic doesn’t leave him alone.

As the increasingly dire consequences of the rift between the pair play out – against the distant background of the real-life Irish Civil War that was then raging – writer-director Martin McDonagh carries Celtic bloody-mindedness to an extreme some may not find credible. Yet he manages to maintain suspense via viewer dread.

Though Catholicism – personified by the unnamed priest (David Pearse) who makes periodic visits from the mainland – pervades the atmosphere, it does nothing to soften the human relations of the community. Nor does it offer hope to any of the characters. 

Besides the two ex-pals, the more prominent of these include Pádraic’s goodhearted sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), and Dominic Kearney (Barry Keoghan), an intellectually challenged youth to whom Pádraic turns for companionship after Colm abandons him. Dominic’s brute of a policeman father, Peadar (Gary Lydon), is oppressive in public as well as vicious and perverse to his son behind closed doors.

Grisly sights and grim themes make Inisherin a destination fit only for the hardiest. Whether they will find its striking inhabitants and sweeping landscapes – beautifully captured by cinematographer Ben Davis – sufficient reward for the rigors of their sojourn remains an open question.

Look for: Strong performances and an interesting study in moral degeneration. Look out for: An ambivalent portrayal of faith, numerous gruesomely gory images, full male nudity in a nonsexual context, mature references, including to incestuous sexual abuse, about a half-dozen instances each of profanity and milder swearing, pervasive rough language and some crude terms. The Catholic Moviegoer’s guidance is L – suitable for a limited mature audience. The Motion Picture Association rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.   

John Mulderig is Media Reviewer for OSV News.

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