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Dollhouse sets itself up as a party film involving teenagers breaking into a large, seaside house in an Irish suburb. However, as the film continues, a secret begins to reveal itself, eventually unraveling into a series of secrets that ask more questions than they answer. In saying that, Dollhouse uses the party premise as a foundation to allow its characters to discover themselves and grow.
A group of five rambunctious hooligans break into a suburban Irish "mansion" to throw themselves a huge party full of liquor, drugs, and destruction. As one of the ranks, Jeannie (Seana Kerslake) wanders away, the others enjoy themselves until they discover a box full of family photographs... with Jeannie in them. As the unofficial leader of the group, Eanna (Johnny Ward) confronts her about the revelation, Jeannie reveals that the house is, in fact, her own. Feeling betrayed, the group questions Jeannie's true nature... until a person from her past comes knocking on the door.
Dollhouse has this somewhat subtle, uncomfortable tension that runs through the entirety of the film. The boys in the group, Eanna, Shane (Shane Curry), and Darren (Ciaran McCabe) are able to balance both fun and violence at the same time, always teetering on the fence between the two. That's not to say that the tension is bad, though. Rather, it's just a reflection of the characters' lives and a product of the implied rough lives they've lived. Adding to the tension is the other girl in the group, Denise (Kate Stanely Brennan), uses her sexuality to both heighten and diffuse the tension surrounding the kids.
Writer/director Kirsten Sheridan used a fifteen page outline for the "script," allowing each actor to essentially create the characters they wanted to play. Of course, certain revelations were shared with the cast just prior to shooting, allowing for their actual reactions to be filmed. By doing this, Sheridan was able to capture the natural chemistry among the cast. Given that Jeannie is the main character, Kerslake's performance is much stronger than the others. This isn't meant as a strike against the rest of the cast, but as a promotion of her ability to effectively display the wide range of emotions her character goes through.
As I alluded to earlier, the plot is bare, driven specifically by the actors' own reactions to the planned revelations planted by Sheridan. While this led credence to the realism behind the characters, it also makes for some empty moments between the "anchored" plot points. There are moments where too much time is spent seeing the cast simply party. The real emotional growth is solely imparted on Jeannie.
Dollhouse, in a word, is ambitious. Sheridan wanted to tell a very character-driven, emotionally charged film that dips its toes slightly in the disconnect between upper and lower class Irish kids. However, this plot point, which I believe to be more interesting than the simple character journey Jeannie explores, isn't explored as openly as it could have been. However, Dollhouse can be an enjoyable film for those who are interested in character-driven films. The revelations in the film help keep things interesting, but they're too few and far apart to keep most people's attention intact.
Allistair Pinsof: There are plenty of films that prove you can make strong stories by putting a solid script in front of carefully selected non-actors (the recent Sundance darling Beasts of the Southern Wild, for instance.) There are also films that that thrive on loosely scripted improv performances from talented actors. I’m not convinced, however, that you can make a great film with non-actors using improvisation through a loosely scripted scenario. Dollhouse would be exhibit A in this argument. In fact, the story behind the making of Dollhouse is significantly more interesting then the film itself which feels like a Skins episode stripped of both style and substance. In presenting such a head-on depiction of reckless youth, free of nuance, the film is both monotonous and (ironically) hard to believe. There are some nice moments and it maintains a strange watch-ability, but its high concept never finds a comfortable meeting place for the viewer. -- 46, subpar