An atypical but popular festival finale at London’s annual haven of the macabre Frightfest, Abner Pastoll’s gritty second film is more of a revenge thriller than an outright horror. It combines elements of domestic drama, home invasion, and the gangster genre to fairly successful effect; an interesting mix that should put its director and its lead actor Sarah Bolger on the radar of genre-savvy viewers.
Sarah (Bolger) is a young widow struggling to keep her life together. Her husband was murdered; an act witnessed by her young son, who has been stricken mute and traumatised by the event. She has few resources to buy food for her kids and has a fractious relationship with her mother who never approved of her choice of partner. When a local drug dealer bursts into her home while escaping from local kingpin (Edward Hogg) from whom he’s stolen a stash it becomes a tentative but handy source of extra income, but draws the attention of his pursuers. The meek young woman must fight to protect her family.
A Good Woman is Hard to Find is a similar collision of the kitchen sink with genre film to the likes of Ben Wheatley‘s Kill List, Chris Baugh‘s Bad Day for the Cut, and Shane Meadows‘ Dead Man’s Shoes, which is the most obvious touchstone.
Bolger’s revelatory performance is by some measure the film’s biggest asset. The outlandish turn the story takes is kept grounded in the realms of feasibility by the subtle evolution of Sarah’s character. The crescendo of violence in which she becomes involved is down to desperation rather than some innate but previously untapped blood lust. It’s the protective instinct of a mother backed into a corner and forced into savagery to deal with a threat.
This compelling central performance makes up for a few issues. The story suffers from some moments of contrived plotting and an overly quirky turn from the usually reliable Edward Hogg as the chief antagonist Leo Miller. Miller is given a Stannis Baratheon-esque streak of supercilious pedantry which seems at odds with the spartan locales of working-class Belfast.It feels like an attempt at an unnecessary flourish a la Tarantino that is simply incongruous. There’s also the odd clunky nugget of dialogue that trigger a wince more severe than any instance of bloodletting. “We’re not wise men; we’re bin men,” is a particularly bad example.
Where A Good Woman is Hard to Find does hold the attention is in an atmosphere choking with poverty, despair, and the memory of decades of violence baked into the walls. Even in this environment of perpetual struggle, Sarah is looked down upon by other members of society as a single mother, even though the loss of her husband is no fault of her own. The issue of him also perhaps having been a drug dealer is one that is tantalisingly never resolved; a smart bit of writing rather than a loose end, and one that makes up for a few of the narrative shortcomings.
While undeniably flawed A Good Woman is Hard to Find is another of the many small-scale British genre films released this year that deserve wider attention than they’re likely to receive. Although it suffers from some sloppy writing in places, the brooding, oppressive atmosphere and Sarah Bolger’s startling, transformative performance more than compensate. Besides, you can’t argue with a film in which a miscreant gets stabbed in the eye with the business end of a vibrator.
In cinemas and digital HD from Fri 25 Oct 2019