by Sean Smith
Pre-teens Dylan and Kylie escape from their bleak, lifeless Dublin neighborhood to search for the boy’s older brother, who fled home two years earlier after being overwhelmed by the chaotic, miserable family life that has now pushed Dylan to the breaking point. Kylie is, if anything, more resolute than Dylan about leaving her home -- and, as is revealed later, has a very good reason.
This 2008 feature, which made its way to the US this year, filters the (very) young-love-on-the-run escapism theme of 1970s films like “Melody” and “A Little Romance” through the gritty realism of “Ratcatcher,” with a touch of Roddy Doylesque dark humor; you can even detect a “Wizard of Oz“ reference in the film‘s use of color. But unlike those earlier movies, there are few illusions of salvation or fulfillment here: While Dylan and Kylie do encounter random episodes of kindness on their journey -- with a friendly river-dredging boat operator, a stranger who may be Bob Dylan, and a prostitute whose little bit of folk wisdom explains the significance of the film’s title -- the world at large is shown to be an unsettling, quite dangerous place. The kids’ hold on childhood innocence is tenuous as it is, and so they seem chillingly capable of developing a tough, profane, emotional/spiritual exoskeleton to help them navigate these potentially deadly waters.
The two young leads, Shane Curry and Kelly O’Neill, are generally equal to the task here, although at times they seem to be merely declaiming or reciting the dialogue. But the chemistry between them feels genuine and believable, especially in the scenes where they are able to be kids, impulse-buying at a mall, or frolicking in a deserted skating rink. And at the end, you’re relieved they have each other, whether as friends or lovers or both, because clearly they won’t have much else.