Sitges 2008: DOROTHY Review
One very good reason to see Agnes Merlet's chilling new possession film Dorothy: young first time actress Jenn Murray in the title role. To step into a lead role your first time out is a challenge no matter what the role is but to step into a role like this - a role with serious physical, mental and emotional demands - is entirely another. And Murray, to be blunt, absolutely nails it with a stunningly charismatic performance. This girl is going to be a serious, serious star and will soon be scooping up the sort of roles that generally go to Samantha Morton these days. I guarantee it. The entire cast is very strong, actually, and the film has a beautifully constructed air of menace to it which makes one very badly cliched character and an ultimately unsatisfying ending all that much more disappointing.
Young Dorothy Mills, a girl of about twelve by the looks of her, is in serious trouble. She assaulted an infant she was babysitting, putting the child into a coma, and now claims to remember nothing of the incident, not even the fact that she was asked to babysit. In the face of some very strange and conflicting testimony the court does the sensible thing and sends a psychiatrist - Dr Jane Morton - out to the remote island community where Dorothy lives to conduct a psychiatric assessment and determine whether Dorothy is fit to stand trial.
What Morton finds is a tiny, self contained world, a world that ends at the edge of land and is lorded over by Pastor Ross, the harsh and autocratic minister who also serves as the island doctor. It takes mere moments to realize that Dorothy is, at best, dealing with multiple personality syndrome and moments more to realize that Dr Morton is not at all welcome on these shores. This is one community that likes to take care of things internally and outside eyes are most certainly not welcome to pry. But Dr Morton perseveres and as she gets to know Dorothy she slowly realizes that the diagnosis may be both darker and more complicated than it first appeared.
As beautifully shot, constructed and performed as Dorothy is it ultimately unravels at the end and the problems begin and end with the character of Pastor Ross. Gary Lewis - as solid and reliable a character actor as can be found anywhere - bites into the role with such force that it's easy to overlook the problem at first but in the end Pastor Ross is such an enormous cliche of a man, such a grossly overdrawn caricature of the evil, self serving bigot hiding behind religion, that he proves the film's undoing. And it is such a horrible shame that it is so with the other characters built with subtlety and nuance, the life of the town played out so very well, and such a brilliant performance in the center of it all building tension and fear. Dorothy is so agonizingly close to being one of those very, very rare films that dares to step into Exorcist territory and holds its own that it is extra painful to see it fail by tripping over what should have been such an obvious issue very early on in the process. Cast? Sterling. Direction? Very much more than solid. But someone, somewhere, needed to have a word with the screen writer.