Dorothy Mills is a psychological/supernatural mystery film which takes
place within a remote island community in Ireland. Little Dorothy, age
15 but seeming younger, went crazy while babysitting one day and hurt the
infant she was caring for. The Irish authorities sent a psychiatrist from the
mainland to evaluate the situation. The psychiatrist originally came up with a
diagnosis of multiple personality disorder - until the psychological part of
the mystery gave way to the supernatural.
The dramatic tension in this film centers around the true nature of little
Dorothy's multiple personalities. The psychiatrist thinks the various
characters being manifest are purely fabrications of Dorothy's imagination,
The premise is similar to the original version of The Wicker Man, except
that it establishes a dark, spooky atmosphere in the very first scene, and
maintains it throughout. The island is forbidding: jagged cliffs, invariably
overcast skies, permanently muddy ground, houses built of rotting timber. The
music is foreboding. The staring, taciturn, unsmiling islanders look like
refugees from a mental health clinic. All about her, the psychiatrist sees
hints that dark rituals are being practiced involving communication with the
dead and animal mutilations. To an outsider, every local seems to be hiding
terrifying secrets. The islanders not only shield themselves from the
outsider, but from each other as well, and the island's tragic history never
seems to vanish into the past.
In addition to the creepy ambiance, the film's other big plus is a tremendous lead performance from Jenn
Murray. The character's unique ability to channel other personalities requires
Ms. Murray to play a half-dozen parts and in each case to match them
accurately to other people playing those same parts in other times and places.
She manages to impersonate the other actors accurately enough that it can be
difficult to determine whether any given character on screen is a flashback
from the past or Jenn Murray impersonating that character. When she channels a
male, the DP tends to keep the camera off of her at first so that she can
sustain the illusion with her voice. When she channels a female, it takes the
pause button to determine whether the person on screen is the actress playing
lady X, or little Dorothy channeling X.
By the way, the star of this film, playing the psychiatrist, is the Dutch
actress Carice van Houten, whose impeccable English is absolutely uncanny. The
only accent I could hear was her inability to say the "th" sound in "the," and
that may not have been her own accent, but an attempt to duplicate the sound
of some regional Irish accent. (If you've been there, you know many natives
say "ting" instead of "thing.") She was playing a character with a Dutch name,
so I'm not really sure whether she was trying to incorporate any Irish sounds
into her vocal range. Either way, she has an impressive phonetic command of a
language which is not her own.
The film's solid direction is not a surprise given that the director is
Agnes Merlet, who seemed to have a truly promising career about a decade ago,
after the release of Artemisia. I'm not sure what happened to Merlet in the
interim, but this is her first credit since then. That's about 11 years
between films. She still displays plenty of talent at the helm, but I was not
as impressed by her script, which seemed to follow all the usual predictable
paths, offer all the usual horror film foreshadowing, and draw upon the usual
characters and clichés. A lot of the details don't make sense if you think
back upon them once you know all the secrets, and the story culminates in one
of those endings that leaves the audience thinking, "That's it?", not in the
sense that it doesn't provide closure, but in the sense of "C'mon. They
couldn't think of any better way to end it?"
The film is rated 6.2 at IMDb, which is about right in terms of the skill
involved. It's crafted well enough that a lower score would be unjust, but
it's a slow burner with limited appeal. It's not a film with mainstream
potential, since it is monotonous and lacks stars, humor, and action. Neither it is a film that
will appeal to most fans of modern horror films, since it is laid-back,
treads on familiar ground, is lacking in "boo" moments, and has almost no gore on screen. In recognition of
the film's limited appeal, distributors in North America and the UK didn't
take the bait offered by a Cannes screening, and the only reviews currently
online are in French and German.
The nudity comes from Charlene McKenna, or at least I think so. As I told
you above, it's not always clear whether the character of Mary is McKenna in
flashbacks or Jenn Murray as Dorothy channeling Mary. But I'm 95% sure it's
McKenna. Color-adjusted sample below.