Back in his Scrap Saturday radio days, Gerard Stembridge could skewer the highest and mightiest in the land with a single thrust. His first feature as writer and director, 1995s Guiltrip, was a dark kitchen-sink story of a marriage consumed by alcohol and violence while his pointedly frivolous sex comedy About Adam caught something of the go-go millennial mood. Eight years later, Alarm again attempts to take a snapshot of Irish society and frame it in a movie genre – this time the psychological thriller – but the result is as shrill and annoying at its title, a hopeless dud from start to finish.
Opening with a single clanging chord, Alarm introduces us to trainee journalist Molly (Ruth Bradley) as she sits with her psychiatrist, played by Emmet Bergin. Something awful happened to Molly a couple of years ago and now she lives with friends of the family (Tom Hickey and Anita Reeves). But all she wants is a place of her own, so after paying more than the asking price, she moves into an identikit house somewhere in the commuter belt. The sleazy estate agent, having patiently explained the theory of gazumping, then offers to install a burglar alarm for only a thousand euros. Molly demurs with a shudder, no alarms!
The first night in her new unsecured home, Molly throws a party for her tiger cub chums. There she meets the dark and dashing Mal (Aidan Turner), who gives her meaningful stares and offers to hang her wallpaper for her. That’s not a euphemism; he duly turns up the next day, brush and paste in hand. Molly, meanwhile, stares at him over the rim of her teacup, mentally ticking off her checklist; car, house, man. Smiling, positive Mal moves in and sad Molly is so delighted she stops taking her medication and talking to her doctors. Or anyone else, as it turns out. Then one night, the house is burgled and a bike is stolen. Kindly locals Joe and Mossie (both Owen Roe) insist on installing an alarm, but the robbers return, again and again.
Alarm is an attempt to serve the Celtic Tiger chop-suey style, on a bed of shredded movie references, but Stembridge uses a hatchet where a fillet knife is required. The result is an overcooked mess, lacking all taste and savour. Intended as a wake-up call to a society that has lost direction and is at the mercy of property carpetbaggers and lifestyle profiteers, Alarm is poorly conceived and dramatically flaccid. Neither lead is up to the task, their evident struggle not helped by cloth-eared dialogue and a series of inane plot developments. Tediously repetitive and unappealingly eccentric, Alarm soon descends into glib, patronising nonsense that is not even second rate – an insipid, technically inept and cinematically bankrupt film.
Far more shocking than any of Stembridge’s yellow-eyed observations is the realisation that our filmmakers are insistent on rendering the Irish experience down to a few greasy nuggets of cliché, just as John Boorman did in the equally facile and condescending Tiger’s Tale. Traffic jams and house prices: is that all there is? Is that what it means to be us?