LFF 2020: Wildfire – Review

Release Date – 3rd September 2021, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 25 minutes, Director – Cathy Brady

When her sister, Kelly (Nika McGuigan), returns after being missing for several years, Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) must put up with circulating rumours and their pasts coming back to haunt them in their small Northern Irish border town.

Through all the mystery that writer-director Cathy Brady’s feature debut, Wildfire, creates it’s made by more than just her screenplay. Her two leads are fantastic in creating a close sisterly bond, even for characters who haven’t seen each other for several years. Nora-Jane Noone plays Lauren, a young woman, happily married and with a job that seems to be fairly stable and secure, much like her life appears to be going. That is until her sister, Kelly (Nika McGuigan) turns up in her small border Northern Irish town, muddy and dishevelled, after being missing for several years. Her return not only comes as a shock but what seems to be an almost unwelcome one. Kelly’s reappearance throws the stability of Lauren’s life in all directions and causes rumours to circulate around the town, alongside tension for the sisters. Having grieved already for her sister, and still mourning the ambiguous loss of their mother, Lauren’s life turns into a spiralling confusion in an instant.

Yet, the two still manage to reform their sisterly bond. Despite tensions and stresses and an initial struggle they quickly find themselves laughing and joking at their past antics in old haunts – such as the corner of the local bar. Yet, their seemingly dark pasts, or old traumas, lie around every corner, the other residents of the town dredge up mysterious points that gradually piece together, relating to the sisters’ lives during The Troubles. Soon stories spread and rage grows much like a titular wildfire. The film itself isn’t about The Troubles, yet the story elements that relate to it help to emphasise the darkness that lies within some scenes. Even some of the instances of Thelma And Louise style bonding – this tone especially emerging in the escalations and dramatic action of the third act – contain these hints of anger and sadness; reminiscing can often completely turn to heated emotion.

Thanks to the chemistry and power of the two central performances, mixed with Brady’s screenplay, such moments never feel as if they suffer from imbalance. The feeling of the film and the emotional engagement of the viewer is pushed further due to the fact that this is a piece layered with the fingerprints of a cast and crew who clearly care for what they are making. All wanting to tell a good, engaging story, and they certainly achieve this. The mystery throughout keeps you situated as the pasts of the two central figures are never fully detailed and much is left in the shadows, both individually afraid to step into them, or even properly discuss them. The dark cinematography pushing such ideas, a fair deal of the film’s key scenes take place at night, or dusk and dawn. For those scenes that are set during the day there’s a greyness to them that still hints at the otherwise drab and dull life of the small Northern Irish border town in which the film takes place, although this largely seems a façade. Everyone is holding their own secrets, and often it’s what they know about other people – specifically Kelly and Lauren.

Wildfire is a small, quiet film and yet it speaks clearly and loudly. It uses its short 85 minute run-time to great effect and tells an investing, sometimes tense and emotional story within it. It follows an interesting, ambiguous path, with darkness and fearful threat around each corner, as more about the sisters and their pasts is revealed. The two central performances carry power and care, and Brady’s direction and screenplay push this further. There’s strength within the relative simplicity of the film and the way the cast and crew handle this. Once everything is revealed and the end of the film arrives what has been viewed is a film about the gradual re-growth of a tested bond between two sisters, trying to cover the joint tragedy of their lives in a cramped, claustrophobic town in which it seems nothing is ever kept a secret.

The Troubles might lightly lie in the background but there’s still a darkness to Cathy Brady’s quietly strong debut. McGuigan and Noone are fantastic in the lead roles, as mysteries unravel the film stays stable, even if its central characters can’t.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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