Produced by DoubleBand Films with support from the Irish Language Broadcast Fund, BBC Gaeilge and TG4, mystery thriller Doineann becomes the very first Irish language feature film made in Northern Ireland. Brought to life from an idea first discussed in a coffee shop on Botanic Avenue in Belfast, it’s directed by Damian McCann in his feature debut and boasts a script from Aislinn Clarke, writer and director of The Devil’s Doorway

The film follows investigative journalist Tomás (Peter Coonan) and his wife Siobhan (Clare Monnelly) who live on a remote island off the north-west coast of Ireland with their newborn son, Oisín. One morning Tomás is called to the mainland for work, forcing him to leave his wife and son by themselves for a few hours, much to the dismay of Siobhan who has been struggling since the birth of Oisín. Upon his return, he realises a possible tragedy may have struck and he must call upon the help of retired policewoman Labhaoise (Bríd Brennan) in order to solve the mystery he has discovered, although time is of the essence as a deadly storm is also quickly descending on the island.

Doineann begins with a stressful morning for Tomás and his family as he tries to juggle the responsibilities of work, whilst ensuring that Siobhan is healthy enough to provide adequate care for their baby. With phone calls blaring, breakfast burning and little baby Oisín crying his eyes out it’s far from plain sailing for these new parents and this chaotic start to the day is an appropriate foreboding of the subsequent drama that follows. This opening scene and the accompanying forecast of the oncoming storm set the tone well and kickstart the film’s gradual momentum perfectly, one that continues with an ever-quickening pace as the mystery of the film unfolds.

Clarke’s screenplay is undoubtedly one of the film’s finest elements, with many of the other successes springboarding from her thoughtful writing. Her work is masterful in establishing the mystery, developing the narrative and controlling audience perception and expectation throughout. Complimenting this is McCann’s careful direction, which ensures that none of the brilliance of Clarke’s story is lost in the transition from script to screen. In fact, McCann’s direction enhances the intricacies of the plot with impressive camera work and attention to detail. It’s clear that this is a cohesive effort from the pair, both wanting to help each other’s creativity excel and in doing so they have ultimately produced an extremely tense, gripping and clever thriller.

The cast further elevates the production in drawing audiences into the drama. Coonan is a charming presence, one which audiences will immediately warm to as a result of his love and affection for his wife and new baby. Monnelly delivers a wonderfully layered performance as his on-screen wife Siobhan, making the most of her slightly more limited screen time in such a superbly subtle way. However, Brennan’s turn as retired policewoman Labhaoise, the only resemblance of the law on this remote island is quite possibly the best of the bunch. She grounds the whole drama with her calm and purposeful deduction that drives the story forward in such a captivating way. The whole cast play so well together though, and as the narrative unfolds so do their performances, becoming increasingly impressive as time goes on – a testament to both the actors and the writing. 

One further aspect of the film which is a constant throughout is the unnerving atmosphere. From the opening scene to the closing moments there’s a palpable uncomfortableness and tension weaved into the film. The score by Mark Gordon, Charlie Graham and Richard Hill is certainly a crucial factor in achieving this. It knows when to be elusive and when to be aggressive, and its ever-so-slight inclusion of Gaelic elements appropriately compliments the language and setting of the film. Despite the way the score contributes to the more sombre and dark cloud that the film is largely shrouded in, Doineann does still manage to include some more lighthearted moments of comedy, taking advantage of the small community setting and all the larger than life characters that come with it.

Comedy aside, and admittedly with not too much thought, the idea of a mystery thriller with a retired policewoman, on a remote island, with no phone signal and an oncoming storm at its heart might seem somewhat clichéd. So yes, in the most basic way Doineann is guilty of using some of the most well-trodden genre tropes. However, these never come at the expense of the narrative and the quality of filmmaking surrounding these make any slight deviation into the unoriginal completely forgivable. The film surpasses any potential clichés and crafts a truly thrilling experience that will have you guessing from the get go and desperate for answers throughout.

McCann, Clarke and the entire cast can be very proud of their work here as they’ve delivered a tremendous thriller whilst also giving the Irish language representation in Northern Irish film production, no doubt the first of many more titles to do so. Their collaboration here is proof that good filmmaking and authentic storytelling transcends language, and also serves as a reminder that this medium should represent more than just the majority of society. However, it should be explicitly stated that Doineann succeeds first and foremost as an extremely entertaining piece of cinema, regardless of language. Therefore it can be confidently stated that McCann’s feature debut is a riveting and rousing ride, laced with intrigue, mystery and twisted deception. Doineann is set to be a surefire future classic of Northern Irish cinema.

Rating: ★★★★

Director: Damian McCann
Writer: Aislinn Clarke
Cast: Peter Coonan, Brid Brennan,Clare Monnelly