Image Entertainment // 2008 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 12th, 2010
Some Secrets are Better Kept.
If anthropology has taught us anything, it is that the rules that we consider sacrosanct in our society are essentially arbitrary. Notions of right and wrong tend to mutate and shift between cultures, blurring the lines of morality. When we speak of society in this way, we invariably mean adult society, those members of civilization who are fully formed and able to operate rationally and completely with other. Children are a special case because they are in the process of learning the rules by which adults interact, the customs and codes that govern adult behavior. What makes children scary, the reason they occupy such a special place in the horror pantheon from The Bad Seed to The Good Son, is the fact that they are not yet fully bound to the rules of right and wrong that society holds so dear. They can commit heinous acts that make adults tremble because they aren't yet aware of the full implications of their actions. To combat this we have fairytales of what happens to little girls and boys who don't learn the rules, and we have stories to explain these problem children, calling them changelings and the like, to comfort disturbed parents. The Daisy Chain attempts to wrap all this up into a contemporary tale of a pair of grieving parents and their relationship to a troubled young girl. Although it offers a solid depiction of the "scary child" story, it doesn't ever rise above its more well-known predecessors.
The Daisy Chain is the story of Martha (Samantha Morton, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) and Tomas (Steven Mackintosh, The Other Boleyn Girl), a married couple who decide to leave the bright lights of London for the Irish countryside where Tomas grew up. They're still grieving from the loss of their first child when she was only three weeks old but they're happy to be pregnant again and expecting a son soon. Everything seems to be going okay until a neighbor's house burns down, leaving only their young daughter Daisy alive. Despite the fact that Daisy seems obviously disturbed, perhaps autistic, Martha informally adopts her until a suitable foster family can be found. Strange things start to happen, though, and anyone who gets in Daisy's way seems to meet a terrible end. Is their newfound child a changeling wreaking havoc on the local population, or is it just a bunch of superstitious nonsense from poor Irish folk?
The Daisy Chain earns some credit for taking the creepy child plot and transferring it to a set of expectant (and previously scared) parents. This set ups Martha's attraction to Daisy and adds an extra layer to their relationship as Daisy acts as the daughter Martha lost. It also adds tension between Martha and Tomas, creating a triangle that's quite a bit more interesting than parents versus child. The film is also helped by the tremendous acting talents of Morton, Mackintosh, and David Bradley (Mr. Filch to Harry Potter fans). They play the film as if they were acting in the most serious drama of all time, never succumbing to any cheap horror-acting tricks. Setting the film in the Irish countryside was also a good choice. Besides giving the film a set of "superstitious locals," the film gains in atmosphere immeasurably with the green Irish coast as a backdrop.
All this, however, cannot save the "been there, done that." For whatever reason the film makes it pretty obvious that Daisy is, if not a changeling, capable of nasty things early in the film. This releases most of the tension, and although we might feel for Tomas and Martha, even worry about them, the ending seems inevitable from 10 minutes into the film, making it a chore to get to. With a fairly obvious ending and little tension in the plot, the film is left to limp along by being creepy. The attempt is honorable (and certainly the actress Mhairi Anderson can make Daisy creepy), but ultimately not enough to sustain a 90-minute movie.
Verdict was sent a screener of The Daisy Chain so final specs are not in, but what I can say is that the film has gorgeous cinematography. Although there's a flat look to the visuals, the lush colors and fine mist that encompass most scenes is beautifully rendered. The audio is a workable 5.1 mix that keeps the dialogue audible despite the occasional thick accent (at least to these American ears). The only extra on this disc was the film's trailer.
The Daisy Chain can't quite decide if it wants to be a drama or a horror film. One or the other would have been great, but together they make an awkward pair where the creepiness gets in the way of the drama and the drama makes it harder to scare the audience. It's probably worth a rental for the performances and the views of the Irish countryside, but I'm still left feeling the film could have been so much more.
The Daisy Chain is guilty of not quite living up to its potential.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R