An old Tom Petty song laments: “What becomes of the broken hearted.” In Northern Irish movie Wildfire we get a glimpse of the psychological scarring of trauma survivors and the legacy of loss after peace has been made and the world has moved on.
Set in a post-Brexit world in a dark and brooding Northern Irish border town, Wildfire begins when Kelly returns home to reunite with her sister Lauren having disappeared and been reported missing for a year.
Lauren has been in a state of emotional disarray having heard no word from her sister and relations are initially cool until their previous closeness reignites.
Having wandered on an unspecified adventure in the UK, Kelly has returned on a prodigal mission – to explore and understand the mystery of their mother’s death.
Both are shellshocked orphans from losing their father in an IRA car bombing of the local Sunday Market during ‘The Troubles’ and their mother soon after in mysterious circumstances.
Kelly has returned for answers and to finally confront the legacy of their loss.
As she tries to settle back into small town life, her efforts attract the town gossips and Lauren struggles in her soulless job at a local factory in which a robotic arm measures her movements against a productivity schedule.
That the factory has been built on the old site of the Sunday market, the site of her father’s death, amplifies the ghosts that haunt Lauren daily.
The two sisters rekindle through shared memories of their mother and become inseparable, bonding through a series of wild adventures, tormenting Kelly’s husband Sean, who is sympathetic to Kelly’s plight but sees his own life unravel.
The film is devoted to Nina McGuigan whose brilliant acting range takes Kelly from street firebrand to sad and compassionate sibling to dancing and swimming free spirit.
Nina sizzles opposite Nora-Jane Noone and at times they seem to merge into a single personality. In a sad footnote, McGuigan tragically passed away from cancer before Wildfire’s release.
The film has a fitting dark and brooding colour palette and soundtrack that perfectly suits this tale of repressed trauma as the two sisters embrace the darkness – becoming increasingly isolated and estranged from the world around them as they continue their unwelcome dig into the past
Their quest peaks when they confront some pardoned IRA murderers in a bar and let them know that the community remembers their deeds long after the courts have judged and the Stormont and Good Friday Peace agreements been signed.
The scene in which our new Ireland females go nose to nose with tough old IRA heavies is magnificently tense and brilliant acting.
The film hurtles to its nailbiting climax as the town closes in on their increasingly erratic behaviour as they confront the ghosts of the past and the answer to their defining question:
“Do you think she loved us?”
Wildfire is confronting and heavy and it needs to be when taking on the subject of the limits of sibling bonds, the psychological scars of surviving trauma and the often tragic outputs of unprocessed grief.
Wildfire is a brave, emotional and gritty film that will stay with you on many levels.
See it exclusively in Australia at the online Irish Film Festival.
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Image source: Irish Film Festival Australia