Most of the time when people put the ”European Arthouse” stamp of approval on a horror-film, it simply means that you have some European film crew trying to make a Hollywood horror, but without the budget needed. Most of these films simply don’t have more in them than their American counterparts, and the badge of European pride in acting and sociological relevance is an illusion created for marketing purposes.
Case in point, Aisling Walsh’s The Daisy Chain, dares to differ. Like a female Polanski she has actually tried to fuse the low-key socio-drama with a supernatural horror-story. Not quite the success story, though.
After a slow start, the film moves on to a slow mid-section and sort-of culminates in a slow finale. It’s the story of a couple moving to the Irish coast after a family tragedy. They spend some time ogling the locals, who mostly could have been taken from Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and find a fascinating specimen in a young girl named Daisy. Problem is Daisy’s Omen-vibe has made her unpopular with the locals, including her own family who occupy a cabin on the same cliff as our grieving family. Following the sudden, blazing demise of Daisy’s family, our protagonists take her in and from there on it’s a straight (but very slow, very low-key) line to helter-skelter.
Initially I was intrigued by the fact that almost no-one in the cast and crew had any previous credits that remotely resembled horror. Director Aisling Walsh is an award-winning socio-realist director who made a name for herself with Song for a Raggy Boy and female lead Samantha Morton has twice been Oscar-nominated. These are respected auteurs and artistes, and it should be interesting to see what they made of the classic demon-orphan kind of story. Not much, it turns out, as The Daisy Chain is mostly an ineffective nod towards Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now and the likes.
The awesome location, the wind-torn, wooden houses built almost on the cliffs of the Irish coast, is the one thing put to best use. Most of the outdoor scenes work well and create en eerie mood, but once we move indoor mood, tension and atmosphere are absent. The character of Daisy, with her alien eyes and squeaky voice isn’t scary and the imbecilic decision to have her keep saying “Play with me” is more annoying than moody. Judging from the trailer to Orphan, those guys had more luck with a girl that’s surprisingly similar to this one. The girl doesn’t work, Samantha Morton and Steve Mackintosh battle a flawed script, and most of the supporting cast don’t help either. It’s very obvious what the intentions have been, but as a mood piece Walsh simply isn’t up to the task. Sure the scenes of marital drama are overly realistic and the characters are of main concern, but on so many other occasions, the script fails and with it, the actors.
This is a very European film, but only in the sense that it’s boring, dragging and slightly pretentious. Apart from very few scenes that work really well, this isn’t one that’ll have you avoiding small children in the street.