Monday, September 06, 2021

Wildfire – a vivid story of transgenerational trauma as a reunion of sisters sparks a coming to terms with the past

Big sister Lauren’s heart has been broken so many times. Her dad’s murder in a bomb blast, her mother’s sudden death, the disappearance of the younger sister she’d reared, and now Kelly’s reappearance threatens to destabilise her shaky existence once again.

Wildfire showcases the considerable acting talent its two leads, Nika McGuigan (Kelly) and Nora-Jane Noone (Lauren). Lauren’s poor mental health is well depicted, snapping out at family and friends, at times, physically bent over with the pain and worry. There’s a weariness in Kelly’s eyes that adds depth to the anguish she carries on-screen. McGuigan died while the film was in post-production.

Borders are somewhat shoe-horned into this story of transgenerational trauma. Borders are crossed, spanned and hardened with post-Brexit uncertainty presented as a continuation of the distress of the Troubles, an unnecessary and rather unsatisfactory distraction in the overall storyline.

Metaphors are stacked almost as high as the goods in the online warehouse in which Lauren spends her working hours. Cathy Brady’s 85-minute film has plenty of ambition: if anything, it’s over-framed and reducing the contextual complexity might have delivered a less fussy result.

Hats off for casting Olga Wehrly as the sisters’ mother in the flashback sequences. The resemblance works well and the drip feed of backstory has a perfect pace to give away as little as possible as the narrative is unfurled.

While a somewhat disappointing addition to the Troubles noir collection, the emotional rollercoaster experienced by Kelly and Lauren is still good to watch and Wildfire is a cinematic triumph. The scenes of sea and lough are beautiful, Kelly’s red coat is set against the dusky backdrops, and the warehouse has its own primary colour scheme.

A crucial scene in the pub opens out from an almost primal dance with Kelly and Lauren absorbed in their own world of connection and memory to the sinister reality of border life, living cheek by jowl with people who harmed local families. The former is moving and quite brilliant; the latter introduces overly familiar figures who do nothing to surprise and then disappear from the story.

Wildfire is being screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre, Odeon, and Omniplex cinemas.

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