SXSW Film Review: ‘Extra Ordinary’Variety — Dennis Harvey
A first feature for the writing-directing duo of Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman, whose prior work has encompassed shorts, music videos, and commercials, “Extra Ordinary” is a kind of tea-cosy “Ghostbusters” that’s consistently funny in a pleasingly off-kilter way. The presence of Will Forte as villain should help this Irish comedy (co-produced with Belgium) find North American berths, and its idiosyncratic appeal will find pockets of cult fandom elsewhere outside the U.K.
Comedienne Maeve Higgins brings a distinctive frank-yet-flaky personality not far from her standup work to heroine Rose Dooley, a wallflowerish 30-something who makes her small-town living as a driving instructor. She was once destined for other, greater things, however: Her famous spiritualist father Vincent (Risteard Cooper, seen mostly in cheesy video-programme excerpts) used or perhaps exploited her own psychic gifts when she was a child, until an accident involving a “haunted pothole” put an end to both his life and her supernatural vocation. Her voicemail still logs daily inquiries from the ghost-beset, messages that she ignores.
Rose’s lonely-single side is cheered when new driving student Martin Martin (Barry Ward) turns out to be an eligible widower with whom she clicks. But he’s really after psychic services. He and teenage daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) are fed up with the poltergeist-y meddling of late wife and mother Bonnie, whose militant bossing over their household constitutes spectral spousal abuse. Rose is reluctant to help, having sworn “I’d never use my talents again,” but relents.
Soon, however, she and Martin have a different otherworldly problem to deal with: Sarah is found levitating above her bed, Linda Blair-in-“The Exorcist”-style, her state of suspended animation an apparent prelude to some kind of evil rite. It takes the adults a while to figure out what we already know: This is the doing of Christian Winter (Forte), a one-hit-wonder Top 40 musician still riding on the fumes of his song “Cosmic Woman” who aims to revive his commercial mojo with a virgin sacrifice to the Dark Lord. That is, if his relentlessly complaining and acquisitive wife Claudia (Claudia O’Doherty) doesn’t keep interrupting his incantations with unhelpful advice like, “Just kill the bitch.”
Rose’s extra-sensitivity to paranormal phenomena provides a few mild sight gags throughout. But for the most part, “Extra Ordinary” relies more on character-based byplay until a low-speed climactic chase, followed by a demonic-visitation finale that finally drags the film into effects-laden “Ghostbusters” terrain proper. Even then, however, the silliness has a riffing, semi-improvisational feel, abetted by the presences of Rose’s heavily pregnant sister (Terri Chandler) and the unrelated bloke she’s nonetheless having a third-trimester date with (Jamie Beamish).
Alternately vain, flustered, and ludicrously gung-ho for Satan, Forte (also seen more briefly in two other SXSW premieres, “Good Boys” and “Booksmart”) is in inspired form. Ward plays a sort of male ingenue here, cute and charming in contrast to the rather graceless Rose, but his likably twee turn gains a whole other dimension when Martin starts channeling the blunt, chain-smoking Bonnie. (It’s also a testament to the actor that a running gag involving the regurgitation of ectoplasm never gets old.) All the support turns are game as well.
Ahern and Loughman (with credited “additional writing” assistance from Higgins and Demian Fox) have constructed an accessibly off-the-wall comedy that moves at a brisk but unhurried pace, incorporating a suitable array of digital effects for its fantasy theme without succumbing to the usual CG overkill. The packaging is quite savvy in all departments, James Mather’s widescreen lensing and Joe Fallover’s production design in particular toeing a deft line between the everyday, travel-brochure picturesque, and Hammer-style Gothicism. It’s typical of the humor here that American popstar Christian lives in a local castle — not for the sinister atmospherics, however, but to take advantage of Irish tax-shelter laws.