Neil Jordan’s no stranger to the supernatural. From his sophomore hit, The Company Of Wolves, through High Spirits, Interview With The Vampire and In Dreams, the otherworldly has surfaced time and again in his movies.
But this is the first time he’s reached back to his Celtic roots for a mythic subject – the legends of the selkies, women who became seals when they slip into the sea – or if you prefer, seals who become women on dry land.
This hibernian take on mermaids is the first thing that occurs to astonished fisherman Syracuse (Colin Farrell) when his deep-sea net hauls up a beautiful near-naked woman (Polish actress Alicja Bachleda) – a belief reinforced when she tells him she’s called Ondine, the name of a legendary water sprite. Maybe she’s a fantasy or a dream – but who cares when his catches start improving and his former run of bad luck seems to be changing? Previously mocked as the feckless town drunk, he now glimpses a chance of happiness with the mysterious beauty. But she’s shy of being seen in public – and a dark, sinister man has been glimpsed prowling the neighbourhood…
Jordan creates a haunting, lyrical mood, much aided by DoP Christopher Doyle’s caressing treatment of Ireland’s misty, rugged south west coast. Farrell is touchingly vulnerable and 10-year-old newcomer Alison Barry steals her scenes as his crippled, precocious daughter.
Jordan regular Stephen Rea shows up in a diverting support role as the local priest and there’s a yearning score from Kjartan Sveinsson of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. So there’s plenty to enjoy.
But somehow the film never quite grips as it should. The mythicising feels a little self-conscious, the Celtic charm applied from the outside rather than growing organically from the story. As you’d expect from Jordan, it’s beautifully made, but it remains a film to admire rather than one that seizes the emotions.
A sweet, lyrical treatment of the perennial ‘woman from the sea’ myth, well acted and beautifully shot amid Irish coastal landscapes. But the last degree of enchantment is missing.