Dollhouse is an experimental Irish film from director Kristen Sheridan, and whilst the idea is intelligently unique and, for the most part, the execution successful, there is something ultimately disjointed about this feature.
A group of five teenagers (Ciaran McCabe, Shane Curry, Johnny Ward, Kate Stanley Brennan and Seána Kerslake) from Dublin’s inner city break into a lavish upper class residence and proceed to wreak havoc on the interior and their own bodies through ingesting all the alcohol and drugs they can lay their hands on, however things are not as they initially seemed and one member’s dark secret unleashes a torrent of unusual events.
The young cast of non-professionals were charged with improvising every scene from a fifteen page script, which is a daring move on the part of Sheridan and no mean feat for all involved – whilst ad-libbing is not uncommon these days and has given us some of the most famous movie moments to date (‘you’re going to need a bigger boat’) very rarely, if ever, has anyone shot an entire movie without predetermined dialogue.
With that in mind the plot is less of a focal point, it’s more a chance for the performers to show us what they can do and you have to admire their efforts; the first half is frantically energetic and unpredictable with the viewer constantly questioning where their destruction is heading, however the ensuing revelations and mayhem of the second half makes it unsettling and awkward to watch, there is a lingering sense that violence is just around the corner and, whilst this can occasionally add intrigue and thrills, in this case the premise is just to real and raw feeling for it to be comfortable.
The music (by Howie B) heightens the films surrealist elements, played for prolonged periods of time and resulting in some of the most memorable scenes, whilst the jaunty camerawork further contributes to addling the brain of the watcher. If Sheridan’s intention was to confuse and bewilder her audience then she has certainly succeeded. Although some of the themes touched on are interesting – religion, class division, hope and loss – the film does not settle in any one direction and it appears no real points are being made.
If you are in the mood for something completely different then by all means give this a try, as far as improvisation is concerned Dollhouse sits better than you imagine a lot of others would, just don’t expect an easy viewing and I imagine you will have many more questions coming out than you did going in.