A gritty urban fantasy with a strong Scots-Irish accent. In the end, it’s a werewolf movie but it takes some interesting detours to get there. Dour Mary (Kate Dickie) and her teenage son Fergal (Niall Bruton) have been on the run for years, but Mary – the descendant of a magical tribe – has powers which she can use for self-protection: an undercoat of runes daubed with her own blood in a newly-rented estate flat means the address is invisible to those who would harm them, so a nosy official woman ends up wandering the urban wastes until something pounces on her.
Cathal (James Nesbitt), an embittered human (guessably, Fergal’s father), gets a set of tattoos which give him special powers and has to seek permission from an urban laird (James Cosmo) to hunt down the pair, claiming his cause is just but projecting a ferocious cruelty. Fergal falls in with Petronella (Hannah Stanbridge), a mixed-race neighbour with an alcoholic mother and a simple-minded brother, even though Mary warns him against mixing with normal girls. A beast stalks the estate, dragging off and disembowelling the unwary (Karen Gillan, cast pre-stardom, is the first guts-on-the-ground victim). It’s a confident mix of traditional magic and social realism: laying on the grim in the world of the estate, then bringing in outsiders who seem like victims but are actually more dangerous than the locals. There’s a dynastic element in the family conflict, and plenty of hints as to the true natures of all the characters … with the last act reveal being that the half-breed son of a human father and a magical mother is cursed to be the ravening beast.
The first hour is sparing of monster stuff – an elongated claw-hand is glimpsed – to the point when we assume we’re never getting a good look at the creature, but it eventually shows up and is a unique-looking fiend, with a thin waist and a thick chest, a distorted snout and a sheen of glistening slime rather than the traditional fur. It’s still a low-budget monster, but its unusual design earns extra points. Nesbitt and Dickie have a lot of intense fury and Stanbridge is bright, but Bruton is perhaps a touch too clueless – admittedly in a role where he has to hold back until freak-out time. Director/co-writer Colm McCarthy (his script collaborator is his brother Tom McCarthy) establishes an interesting vision of tribal shapeshifters and magic-users living in the margins of human society (divination through the slit guts of pigeons is a commonplace), and doesn’t go into too much demystifying detail: there’s a sense this could be explored more with other stories.