PJ Dillon’s Irish thriller Rewind opens with a young woman sitting in a circle at an AA meeting, wordlessly mouthing the Serenity Prayer. Karen (Amy Huberman) is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, but has been clean and sober for seven years. A city girl, she was wild in her twenties but has settled down with her husband Brendan (Owen McDonnell), a successful businessman, and their 4 year old daughter in a satellite town, somewhere outside Dublin. Life is boringly normal, precisely the way Karen wants it to be.
Then Karl (Alan Leech), an old boyfriend, turns up unexpectedly having been “away” for a few years. Karl, whose surface charm barely hides a sinister, unstable personality, knows things about Karen’s past. “That was a different life”, Karen says, but soon Karl is interfering with her future, the plans she has made and the life she has built for herself and her family. With his easy smile and con-man's instinctive understanding of propriety, the interloper worms his way into the family home, pretending to be a long-lost cousin. Brendan, who knows his wife had problems with substance abuse in the past, is suspicious, but what can he do? Then, a package containing a video tape turns up and Karen has to take a road trip with Karl in a desperate effort to keep her past where it belongs, buried deep and out of sight.
Cinematographer turned director PJ Dillon’s debut feature looks terrific, as you’d expect, washed in cool blues and ominous greys by Director of Photography Ken Byrne, and is keenly paced and tightly edited. The script, from Dillon, Ronan Carr and Roger Karshan, is cleverly conceived but even over a terse 80 minute running time, feels as if it is missing a twist or two. The staging is sometimes stiff, the dialogue lacks polish and Huberman and Leech’s game attempts at inner-city Dublin accents at times sound like poor impersonations. The later stages of the plot hinge on an absurd and improbable coincidence, undermining Dillon’s otherwise carefully constructed realism.
For all its flaws, mostly attributable to the scant production budget, Rewind is superbly acted with Dillon making the most of finely judged performances from his talented cast. More familiar as a smiling, carefree presence in Cowboys & Angels and Man About Dog, Leech plays a convincing scumbag, conniving and dangerous while Huberman, wide-eyed and cold-hearted, perfectly expresses Karen’s shame and fear of discovery. As the panicking husband, McDonnell brings a recognisable bewilderment and sympathetic panic to what is an underdeveloped role.
Like Margaret Corkery’s inky black comedy Eamon and Conor Horgan’s soon-to-be-released apocalypse drama One Hundred Mornings, Rewind was financed by the Catalyst Project, a practical creative initiative from the Irish Film Board, supported by broadcasters and training agencies, which has resulted in three films completed for a total budget of less than €800,000. All three films are of a quality that belies their micro-budget origins and all have won awards at festivals at home and abroad. Although there are issues surrounding distribution and promotion, expensive endeavours not covered in the original budget, the Catalyst Project has been remarkably successful and fully deserves to be renewed.