As a technical exercise in punk filmmaking writer/director Kirsten Sheridan’s chaotic new feature is impressive. She's cast a bunch of unknown young performers to act out one night of drink-and-drug fuelled madness in a posh pad without the safety net of a script and with improvisation as the guiding principle. And that’s just the problem with Dollhouse; it’s an admirable idea but it has the look and feel of a series of acting workshops that may leave you wondering what the actual point is.
Is Sheridan making a Larry Clark-like statement about the idiocy and amorality of youth? Or maybe she’s building up to a Funny Games-like crucible of cruelty? Is it a kind of modern-day Lord of The Flies where the binds of adult control are cast off and the youth descend into tribalism and violence?
Anyway, whatever it may be, we are given access to an hour and a half of voyeuristic entertainment when a gang of urchin-like teens break into a condo in Dalkey and proceed to systematically vandalise the place. They gleefully batter the clean architectural lines, raid the drinks cabinet, and graffiti the gallery-white walls. At one point, they even hammer a bed to a ceiling. Sated by this destruction, they then turn on each other and the film begins to show promise as jealousies emerge and the playground turns ugly. Everything begins to teeter on a knife edge of imminent violence - will this forbidden wild night become a tragedy a la unlovely Brit yoof flick Donkey Punch?
The sudden arrival of a posh boy next door played by Jack Reynor, in a part filmed before his superb recent turn in What Richard Did, brings added conflict and the best scenes centre around the minor class war that emerges between him and the loathsome Eanna (Johnny Ward). Edited down from 100 hours of footage, Dollhouse is unsettling and occasionally brutal stuff but it is also frustrating and uneven. The use of improvisation creates the right sense of chaos and a fear - the actors get the plot reveals at the same time as we do – but the wild mood swings are often just non sequiturs.
in fact, the hallucinogenic longueurs (sound tracked by a great original score by Howie B) may make you wonder if the whole thing is a bad trip brought on by those tables heaving with class As and strong hooch. The theory and approach behind Dollhouse is noble but as a movie, it can be as messy and unfocused as an all-night session.