Director Agnès Merlet eschews any temptation to deliver the customary blood n’ guts that often form a staple of the modern movie-goers’ palate, and instead demonstrates commendable restraint and a delicate touch with her portrayal of the sad and tortured Irish child with the mother of all identity crises. The eponymous subject of this Franco-Irish spine-tingler is Dorothy, a young girl who appears to exhibit an extreme multiple personality disorder. Some of these identities are proving particularly undesirable, causing her to become vilified by the extremely insular and religious Irish local community whom inhabit the small island, and the allegation that she has abused a local baby does little to sweeten their bitterness against her.
Chain-smoking psychiatrist Jane (ignited into life with a strong performance from pretty Carice van Houten, of Black Book fame) is afforded the dubious task of entering the community to assess the condition of the girl, and packs her bags for a boat trip to the Island; yet her own traumas are still painfully fresh, and despite her aloof exterior, she presents a vulnerable figure. Her arrival is marked by a near-fatal accident, and her experience is further clouded by the almost universal hostility emanating from the miserable locals. Only Dorothy and local policeman Colin seem to accept her presence, and as she begins to discover that abuse in the community extends way beyond the facets she had originally anticipated, her own agonised history becomes entwined in the grimly unfolding plot.
Merlet’s gentle and controlled development of the story against the lush green backdrop of the rolling Irish hills (a backdrop which harbours its own multiple personalities, with the glorious blue skies during Dorothy’s imagined flight of freedom, in stark contrast to the often murky and dank environment during the rain storms) works well as Dorothy’s multiple and starkly contrasting identities come to the fore, sometimes spitting foul-mouthed tirades, sometimes acting the slut, and sometimes presenting the innocence of a small child. With such care and attention paid to a restrained build-up, the delivered shocks pay greater dividends.
Dorothy is also underpinned by some expertly executed technical work. The composition, for instance, is imaginative and precise. Take the moment where Jane steps into Dorothy’s room for the first time; her face is framed with perfection in the small mirror against the facing wall. Or check the scene where Jane is shown to her room by the landlady; as Jane leans against the bathroom door frame, we see the landlady framed in the mirror on the near wall before exiting the room.
Some may be surprised to see a film of this pedigree marketed rather cynically; the sleeve proudly features a quote that the movie is ‘The modern day Exorcist’. This small but grand proclamation reveals an uncomfortable truth; the movie does draw upon many influences and has a pleasing 1970’s paranoid-horror feel to it, yet it is reminiscent of so many epochal movies of the time that it struggles to impose a weighty-enough character of its own. The hostile locals recall the unwelcoming patrons of the Slaughtered Lamb public house, or the local lads who torment Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs. Dorothy’s filthy tirades are indeed extremely similar to Linda Blair’s Regan. And if you have seen The Wicker Man, you’ll know that this isn’t the first time a figure from the ‘authorities’ has travelled out to an island alone to face a hostile and secretive community.
Poor, tortured Dorothy suffers the agony of living a multitude of identities, barely recognising any unique identity of her own. Unfortunately, this chiller blends into the crowd for the very same reason; whilst it stands out for its deft construction and technically accomplished presentation, the assertive stamp of individuality that would carve out its place in the long term horror consciousness is strangely absent. Nevertheless, it’s a sometimes powerful and often unnerving slow-burner which delivers some decent frights, engaging characterisation, and moments of searing, heart-wrenching sadness.
The disc is encoded with region B, and the aspect ratio is 2.35:1, presented in 1080p, so you should expect a good quality and true delivery, and the release does not disappoint. The weathered faces of the assembled congregation, for instance, are captured with a high level of detail, and clear definition, and this is the experience you should expect for much of the film. That said, at other times the darker scenes result in the former definition being compromised with a loss of detail. Additionally, the film often has a slightly grainier and muted seventies feel to it, though this is presumably intentional and certainly adds a certain level of atmospheric impact to the unfolding story and intended sense of discomfort. Overall, the transfer seems very clean and true.
For fans of technical information, the file size of the main feature is approximately 22Gb, with the extras bringing the total size up to the 24.5Gb region. The encoding is MPEG4-AVC, with a frame rate of 23.976.
Audio is available in either 2.0 or DTS-HD 5.1. The 5.1 soundtrack features some nice positioning of sounds, and provides a sufficiently textured aural backdrop to enable the build-up of some decent tension. Voices can sometimes be a little difficult to distinguish, although the heavy Irish accents can contribute to this problem for the uninitiated.
Extras are not particularly well served on this Blu-Ray release. A ‘Making of...’ featurette provides some interesting perspectives from the Director and cast, but at 26 minutes it feels like a fairly perfunctory addition. There is also an opportunity to see the trailer, but as usual, my advice is to avoid watching this until you’ve seen the movie itself.
Dorothy is a careful and delicate foray into a slow and subtle nightmare inside the closed community of a devoutly religious Irish Island. The multi-faceted characterisation of the tormented eponymous girl (performed in shockingly convincing fashion by Jenn Murray) and the psychiatrist sent to save her makes for compelling viewing, and the unravelling plot progresses at just enough of a pace to ensure that viewers’ interest is consistently engaged. The main failing is that for all of the accomplished performances and assured technical approach, it never fully establishes a unique fingerprint in the congested landscape of bone-chilling movies, and the relative dearth of extras does little to assist the cause. Yet the release benefits from a decent transfer, and if you’re looking for quality film-making above outright originality, you’ll find much to enjoy in this sensitive, emotive, and eminently watchable chiller.