Aidan Gillen stars in puzzling neo-noir from Irish filmmakers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy
In the visually striking Mister John a man fleeing marital misery tries the life of his recently deceased brother out for size. This is the second feature from Irish writer, director and editors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor and follows 2008's Helen.
It's an odd, sometimes impressive, sometimes uncertain mix of tenebrous thrills and psychologically inquiring drama. When we meet Gerry Devine (Aidan Gillen) he's near catatonic with grief for both his ex-pat older brother John (who's discovered drowned at the outset) and his own marriage, which is on death's door after his wife's infidelity.
Gerry travels to Singapore to pay his respects to his estranged brother's family and, as he unravels emotionally, he's drawn to John's kind, compliant widow Kim (Zoe Tay) who has taken over the family bar – Mister John's. To his horror and fascination Gerry uncovers the sleazy nature of his sibling's business and associations, including his dealings with local creep Lester (Michael Thomas).
On the face of it, the plot is the stuff of pure neo-noir: death in paradise, looming villains and taboo temptations. But if Mister John deals in sinful sex and duplicity it's so artfully shot and narratively ambiguous that it feels far from tawdry. There's something admirable about Mister John's refusal to conform and Ole Birkeland's gorgeous cinematography does ensure plenty of visual interest.
However, tonally things never quite gel and the delicacy of Gillen's performance doesn't always sit easily with the madder elements of the plot. The film presents us with a mixture of surreal experiences, memories and nightmares and yet its protagonist feels thinly drawn – if Molloy and Lawlor are digging deep into Gerry's psyche then they come up largely empty handed. Mister John might have the ingredients of a mystery but it's just too much of a puzzler to be truly satisfying.
Limited release from Fri 27 Sep.