The Movie Waffler Raindance Film Festival 2024 Review - KATHLEEN IS HERE | The Movie Waffler

Raindance Film Festival 2024 Review - KATHLEEN IS HERE

Kathleen is Here review
A teenage girl develops an obsession with a friendly neighbour.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Eva Birthistle

Starring: Hazel Doupe, Claire Dunne, Peter Coonan, Lisadán Dunlea, James McGowan, Aaron Monaghan

In the last few years Hazel Doupe has established herself as one of Ireland's most exciting young acting talents. In both her appearance and acting ability she bears similarities to Thomasin McKenzie. With her recent role in period thriller Eileen, McKenzie got to show that she could skilfully combine her trademark vulnerability with a touch of menace, and now with writer/director Eva Birthistle's Kathleen is Here, Doupe is is given the chance to prove she's equally capable of striking the same balance.

Kathleen is Here review

Doupe's Kathleen is an 18-year-old who has just left the foster care system, having spent the last few years of her life being moved around various homes. Having "come of age," Kathleen is now left to fend for herself, and so she moves back into the now vacant home she shared with her mother prior to her alcohol related death. Kathleen may be a legal adult now, but it's clear she maintains a childlike attitude to life, and an immaturity to boot. We see the latter displayed in the opening scene as she vents her frustration at missing a bus by causing a scene at the station.

Kathleen's social worker, Damian (Aaron Monaghan), puts on a brave face in his dealings with Kathleen, assuring her that she just needs to get a job and make some friends her own age and she'll be fine. But we can tell by the look in his eyes that he doesn't really believe his own words. It's clear that there's something we're not being told about Kathleen.

Kathleen is Here review

Heeding his advice, Kathleen takes a job stacking shelves at a local supermarket, where she befriends the rebellious Yvonne (Liadan Dunlea). She also gets to know her next door neighbour, Dee (Claire Dunne), who has just recently moved in with her husband Rory (Peter Coonan) and their young son Conor (James McGowan). Dee feels sorry for this lonely young girl, and having lost her own daughter at a young age, she's drawn to forming a maternal bond with Kathleen. All too willing to play the role of surrogate daughter to Dee, Kathleen begins spending time in her company, much to the annoyance and suspicion of Rory. As her obsession with Dee grows, Kathleen turns to increasingly disturbing tactics to ensure nobody gets between them.

Birthistle's script leans into some of the more clichéd tropes of stalker movies, with Kathleen stealing one of Dee's family photos and scratching out the faces of her husband and child, along with the obligatory scene where she terrifies some child bullies. In terms of its structure it's not a million miles away from the average Lifetime thriller of the week. But what distinguishes Birthistle's film from such production line fare is the depth of its characters. Far from a stock psycho, Kathleen's brand of sociopathy is disturbingly real. One of the more unnerving aspects of Kathleen is how she enthusiastically launches into monologues in Dee's presence about pleasant childhood memories. These speeches have so many small details that we can't tell if they're true or if they're simply fabricated stories Kathleen has told so many times by this point that she knows her own lies word for word. Doupe smiles with such manufactured enthusiasm in these moments that we can almost see Kathleen's make-up begin to crack under the strain of wearing a false mask. Dunne plays the role of Dee in a manner that similarly causes us to wonder if she can't see how troubled Kathleen really is, or if she chooses to ignore the many red flags hoisted by the young girl.

Kathleen is Here review

Birthistle is willing to stray from the main plot and allow us to hang out with Kathleen in moments a filmmaker less interested in her character might ignore. Despite her potential for causing harm, we grow to care about Kathleen and even like her in spite of the abrasive wall she builds around herself. While Kathleen is Here is scary and sad, it's also very funny, imbued with a very Irish sense of humour. Many of the laughs come from Kathleen's sociopathic lack of a filter - "That was shite," is how she responds to Rory's impromptu singing - while Dunlea is hilarious as a young woman who takes nothing in life seriously beyond getting drunk and laid. We like all of the women in Birthistle's film, regardless of how mad and messy they might be, and as the film edges towards its climax, we begin to grow tense as it becomes clear the cold reality of the scenario is set to inevitably kick in. Birthistle raises questions about how society deals with people like Kathleen, but she's wise enough to understand any answers can't be provided by a filmmaker alone.

Kathleen is Here plays at the 2024 Raindance Film Festival on June 25th.

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