JDIFF 2012 REVIEW – Dollhouse

A group of teenagers break in to a mansion in the suburbs of Dublin, with the intention of wreaking havoc. When resident of the house, Jeannie (Seána Kerslake) appears, it seems as though the night is going to change from mischief to mayhem, but she is unperturbed by the appearance of these people, and happily joins them. When the mysterious ‘boy next door’ arrives, it is revealed that Jeannie is keeping a secret from her newfound friends, but what?

Dollhouse plays a little like an extended episode of Skins; a group of teenagers out on the rip for the night with little regard for the consequences… But there are always consequences. Sheridan has moved away from the strict mode of storytelling that she used on August Rush, and created a treatment for Dollhouse, but left the actors to improvise the action.

The audience learns little about the characters on screen, like a newcomer at a party, they observe the action as it movies from room to room and gets ever more destructive. It is obvious from early on that Jeannie is hiding a secret, but we only learn what the characters do. Sheridan has given her young cast hand held cameras for their spree, and this jagged, unruly method of filming translates to the screen. Much of what we see is not about the cleanness of the visual, but the feeling that it creates. There is no doubt that the house was beautiful before this invasion, and the use of the building and the destruction of it as well as colour and light paints an engrossing picture.

The turning point begins when Jeannie literally turns her bedroom upside down, nailing the furniture to the ceiling; her life is about to be turned upside down and she knows it. Is this her way of integrating what is about to happen? It seems so.

Tension ebbs and flows throughout the movie, with the short-tempered boys almost lighting the touch paper more than once. They are impatient; what is in the hidden safe that they carve out of the wall? What is Jeannie not telling them? When the answer is revealed and lies are uncovered, their anger suddenly boils away, leaving them sober and uncomfortable in the bright light of day.

Sheridan asks little of her actors, and several of them appear to blend into the background, but this allows Jeannie to come to the fore. The party sequences may seem a little dragged out, but it appears that the movie is told in close to ‘real time’, and we all know that if something is going to come to light at party, it is always after 3am, when tempers are frayed and everyone is drunk. There are also great uses of songs by Dead Man’s Bones and Vyvienne Long.

In all, Dollhouse is an interesting – if slightly superficial – look at the secrets we keep. Dollhouse is a beautifully filmed movie that is great in its messiness and unpredictability.

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