Film Review: Sensation

Title: Sensation

Director: Tom Hall

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Luanne Gordon and Patrick Ryan

Release Date: Out Now

A big problem with Irish cinema is that when it’s not just trying to be a Guy Ritchie-esque crime thriller it can be very hard to classify. Such is the case with Sensation. Billed as a black comedy, the film follows Donal (Domhnall Gleeson) – a bored, existential crisis-ridden young fellow – who comes into some money and decides to hire a prostitute. Before you know it he’s comforting his new lady-friend after an encounter with a rough client, taking her home and helping her start up her own escort agency.

Generally when a film is labeled a black comedy, one would expect it to feature situations that wouldn’t normally be funny yet somehow make light of them. This isn’t really the case with Sensation. Instead what we get is a series of quite depressing scenes with some seemingly out of place moments of levity that mark desperate attempts to draw your attention away from just how dark the material is.

The portrayal of Donal’s life in the generic Irish countryside is soul-crushing in its mundanity, but what is more terrifying is just how real it feels. The film is otherwise played pretty much as a straight drama, with only the odd humorous moment or cheesy one-liner to distinguish it as comedy. While in essence this is an Irish take on the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ trope, it has significantly sharper claws than its Hollywood counterparts.

It is hard to recommend this film. As a comedy it fails; the jokes are too few and far between and their quality varies wildly, and yet as a drama it doesn’t really work either. The latter portion builds toward what should be an interesting climax but instead it just continues on to a sudden, melodramatic end that is completely at odds with the overall tone of the film. There is also a noticeable lack of subtext; Sensation isn’t really ‘about’ anything, except perhaps the fact that below our veiled social niceties, everyone is just a horrible person. This is likely the point of the redemptive final scene, but there is no believable build-up to it. It simply happens and feels like a last minute conclusion that was thrown in merely in order to close a poor narrative.

In a Nutshell: An interesting home-grown film let down by a glaring identity-crisis.