While it premiered at SXSW earlier this year, Irish-American Thriller Don’t Leave Home now arrives to select theatres, as well as VOD, on Friday, September 14, 2018, thanks to Cranked Up Films. Here, art and faith intertwine in a bizarre paranormal experience that defies simple explanations.
American diorama/sculpture artist Melanie Thomas (Anna Margaret Hollyman: The Brave One 2007, White Reindeer 2013) is placing the finishing touches on her current gallery showing, which focuses on unsolved disappearances that occurred across a thirty-year span in the Irish countryside. One sculpture, in particular, focuses on the urban legend of Father Alistair Burke (Lalor Roddy: Game of Thrones series, The Devil’s Doorway 2018), who, in 1986, was commissioned by the Callahan family to paint their beautiful little girl, Siobhan (Alisha Weir). The next morning, little Siobhan disappeared and, perhaps most strange of all, so did her likeness in Father Burke’s painting.
Fast forward to present day, and upon the publication of the first review of Melanie’s gallery showing – a not particularly favorable one, at that – she receives a bizarre phone call from Ireland. On the other end of the line is the well-spoken and congenial Shelly (Helena Bereen: Hunger 2008, The Devil’s Doorway 2018), who invites Melanie to Ireland to meet with Father Burke. Since the tragedy in the late ‘80s, Father Burke, though he was absolved of all wrongdoing, has left the priesthood for a secular life in semi-exile in the countryside. Now, he wishes to meet with Melanie to purchase her sculpture and commission a brand-new, all-original piece of art, as well.
Under strict instructions to inform no one where she has gone, Melanie travels to Ireland, to the gorgeous estate of the former priest. Here, she meets the warm and welcoming Shelly, mute butler Padraig (David McSavage: Robot Overlords 2014, Calvary 2014), as well as the soft-spoken and gentle Father Burke. Almost immediately, the ominous warnings from Shelly begin, as do nightmares and bizarre hallucinations. Tasked with creating a new sculpture inspired by the beautiful grotto on the estate’s wooded property – home to a lovely statue of the blessed Virgin Mary – Melanie will try to lose herself in her art all while balancing the escalating bizarreness around her.
Clocking in at 86 minutes in-length, Don’t Leave Home was written and directed by the superbly-talented Michael Tully (Septien 2011, Ping Pong Summer 2016). It also features Sue Walsh, as Noreen Callahan; Mark Lawrence (Drift 2014, Writing Home 2017), as Conor Callahan; Karrie Cox (Kill or Be Killed 2015, Behold My Heart 2018), as gallery owner Wendy; and Bobby Roddy, as Young Father Burke. Additionally, the film features lovely sculptures by Maeve Clancy and beautiful paintings by Rory Bresnihan, as well as a stunning score by Michael Montes (Applesauce 2015, Always Shine 2016).
First thing’s first – it’s hard not to compare Don’t Leave Home to The Devil’s Doorway, another exceptional Irish film that arrived earlier this year. The films share several main cast members (namely Roddy and Bereen), and, at least in the beginning, they share a similar film technique. To explain better, in its very beginning, Don’t Leave Home utilizes 35mm film to capture the essence of 1986 and translate it to the screen with a certain level of authenticity. Similarly, The Devil’s Doorway was shot almost entirely on film to place an intriguing and unique historical perspective on the Found Footage subgenre. However, as its story moves into modern-day, Don’t Leave Home abandons this technique and, ultimately, the two films could not be more different.
However, the two films are inexplicably intertwined with their casting choices. As we learned earlier this year, Lalor Roddy makes for a stellar man of the cloth. Soft-spoken, kindly and gentle, Roddy is perfectly able to portray a conflicted, former priest who loves artwork and yet has an unceasing guilt at the loss of little Siobhan and his involvement, however innocent, with the Callahans. He is a wonderful foil to Bereen’s Shelly. For her part, Bereen is, in some ways, portraying a character similar to her Mother Superior role in The Devil’s Doorway: initially warm and welcoming, but entirely ambiguous in her intents and purposes. Here, we do get better glimpses of Bereen’s warmth, and she has a wonderful voice that is coated in the most persuasive of honey. Perhaps it is these qualities that make her Shelly so creepy: an outwardly convivial lady who, beneath it all, is pulling the puppet-strings of this drama.
As lead character Melanie, Hollyman does a splendid job of navigating the myriad angles of this bizarrely ambiguous tale steeped in metaphor. She is believable as an artistic spirit, a kind woman who is struggling to pay her bills and get-by with a career that never guarantees a paycheck. Hopeful that her trip to Ireland will pay but maintaining her self-respect, cautiously optimistic, Hollyman is able to relay this information to viewer’s flawlessly and in a likable, believable fashion. We never question her intentions, even if we grasp to understand the journey she is on.
Which is the clear topic of debate here: what exactly is Don’t Leave Home trying to tell us? Each viewer is likely to walk away with an entirely different interpretation, and that interpretation may even be subject to the location of that viewer (i.e. Americans and the Irish are likely to gage this very differently).
Steeped in visual metaphors and reveling in its own hallucinatory amorphousness, Don’t Leave Home is an experience – enjoyable, beautifully done, and intelligently pleasing. It is a little frustrating to end a film without a clear-cut understanding of the story that has just unfolded before your eyes, yes, but sometimes we have to let this go and dive head-first into the unknown. Like the most exquisite paranormal dream, CrypticRock give Don’t Leave Home 4 of 5 stars.