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Solo Features

Alarm is set

Despite the recession, Gerry Stembridge’s new film, Alarm, is played out against the backdrop of the Celtic Tiger. Karina Corbett goes to the gala premiere and meets the producers.

While Alarm was meant to be a timely commentary on the Celtic Tiger and its far-reaching effects on life for those living in isolation in the commuter belt around Dublin, the speed at which the credit crunch has bitten has strengthened the argument that it’s now more of a historical drama. And writer/director Gerry Stembridge himself would agree, joking at the recent gala premiere in Smithfield’s Light House Cinema that the changing face of the Irish economy has seen the film become a ‘period piece’ in record time. Nevertheless, if the recession places Alarm in a slightly different era, it’s one we’re all too familiar with, and the examination of the country’s obsession with property is a punctual look at a national addiction, which we’re now in rehab for – whether or not we’re willingly detoxing.
So where does the whole house buying compulsion fit in with this new psychological thriller from the man who who captured the cusp of the boom years with About Adam? Very neatly in fact. Alarm centres around a young woman called Molly (Ruth Bradley), who, after a severe trauma the previous year, moves from Dublin to a new housing estate in that suburban ring around the city that people have, in reality, been relocating to for some years now. But one minute she’s in residential, house warming party bliss, the next her new beginning starts to turn into something of a nightmare as unexplained events unfold around her.
There is her passionate affair with the mysterious Mal (The Clinic’s Aiden Turner). And the friendly fatherly figure in the local hardware store (Owen Roe), whose twin brother (Roe again, double jobbing and doing it brilliantly) installs alarms. And yes, as the title suggests, alarms play a lead role, as does that utterly bleak desolation that surrounds so many of those housing developments that shot up in the last decade. It’s sanitised luxury on the inside and barren wasteland on the outside where the neighbours are like figments of the imagination and the nearest supermarket is more than a few miles beyond the nearest building site.
Part-funded by the Irish Film Board, Alarm was produced by Anna Devlin and Marina Hughes of Venus Productions, which has been in operation on Dublin’s George’s Street since 1996 and which was heavily involved in making of Stembridge’s movie.
“It’s a long process,” said Hughes told Solo of her and Devlin’s role in film-making in general.
“We would tend to approach writers,” continued Devlin, “and that means then sitting down with the writer at script stage. It’s looking at hiring cast and crew. It’s deciding the whole shape of it really.”
Obviously they are going to embark upon any project with the hope that it has a point of difference, and one of Alarm’s is that it’s a psychological drama out of Ireland, according to Hughes.
“And it’s primarily a female lead, and a strong female lead, which is something we like to work on,” said Devlin. “It’s Molly’s story. Everything is seen from her point view.”
The subject matter of the film is one that had long been facinating its writer/director.
“Gerry was very much interested in exploring the underbelly of Dublin’s suburbs, where everyone is out all day and strange things were happening,” explained Hughes.
“Dublin can be a nasty aggressive place to be, and in Alarm, Molly wants to go to the country for some peace. It’s all about the notion of rural bliss. But it doesn’t exist. There is no quiet countryside, or ‘ruurbia’ as it’s called.”
Both producers say it’s difficult to predict the box office performance.
“It’s hard because we’re constantly competing against the stronghold of big distribution companies. We don’t have a huge advertising budget. But it’s a film that we think will appeal to strong, intelligent women.”
And if Ireland is in the grip of a recession, there’s a strong chance film making here will live to see another day, they added.
“There is an industry now, which has survived,” said Devlin. “You couldn’t have said that even ten years ago.”
The acting in Alarm is spot on, from the so-called newcomers in the lead roles to the old pros like Emmet Bergin, who is strangely alluring as a therapist. And Tom Hickey and Anita Reeves are perfect as the childless couple wanting to spoil the daughter they never had. Look out too for the comic relief in the shape of the only Garda in the village. And any slowness at the beginning of film can be forgiven and understood as it gradually builds momentum. With a relatively low budget, it manages to capture the sense of paranonia that is so necessary an ingredient to a film of this ilk, but perhaps, better still, it shows, and shows well, a snapshot of an era we’re all just emerging from. It’s not quite yet the past, but it’s no longer the future.

Alarm is on general release at selected cinemas from November 7, 2008.

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