Review: South

A slow and contemplative film with a joyous central pairing that hampered by the script.
Reader Rating3 Votes

South, by writer and director Gerard Walsh, is a raw study of the power of relationships and finding one’s place in the world. A slow and contemplative film, it charts the journey of Tom, a lonely young man who decides to travel across Ireland in search of family, after experiencing a tragedy and realising he needs to take back some control of his life.

Dotted with odd encounters, Tom’s journey is far from straightforward, and characters skirt the boundaries of the film, dropping in and disappearing again as quickly, each one playing some part in shaping Tom as he makes his way towards Dublin, but none of them having any real lasting impact on where he ends up, both figuratively and literally.

Tom, played by Darragh O’ Toole, must learn to confront all manner of demons as he battles with grief and tries to understand his place in the world. He comes to realise his relationship with his dad (Joe Rooney) has been a crutch too heavily relied on, and that if he is to cope with loss, he must confront the feelings that have held him back in life and push past the limitations they impose on him.

O’ Toole is very good in a challenging role that sees him shoulder the film largely alone and strike a delicate balance between endearing, vulnerable and hurt. By the time he encounters Jess (Emily Lamey), he is at a breaking point of sorts and their blossoming friendship provides some much needed levity and lightness to the story. South meanders along from one brief and strange rendezvous to the next and paints a picture of rural Ireland that is too aggrandized to be taken seriously; a caricature rather than a realistic representation.

While Jess is one of these oddball characters he meets along the way, she is a welcome addition as their chemistry goes on to inject some life and vitality into an overly grim and depressing trek across country. By the time he meets her he has been beaten and robbed, booed off stage and almost molested, and her introduction to the tale rescues the story from a somewhat unnecessary darkness. Their relationship is brimming with awkward charm and warmth right from the off and a natural chemistry that helps carry the story along and transcends a script that needs a lot of polish.

Sadly there is another issue that can’t be overlooked; a soundtrack that at times intrudes on dialogue, working against the intuitive flow of the film. It is an issue that creeps in at times and needs some tighter editing to remedy, especially when music is such a core component of the movie.

South is mixed bag of a film that won’t be to everyone’s taste. Lacking the emotional punch that a story as introverted as this needs, it’s hampered by a screenplay that never really fires on all cylinders. Where it does succeed though is in the pairing of Darragh O’Toole and Emily Lamey who are a joy to watch together and who rescue Tom’s journey from bleakness to make it a little more endearing.