I get worried when I see box art make claims like they have on the recent release of Dorothy Mills. It claims that this film is a contemporary take on The Exorcist. The problem is that we don’t really need a contemporary take on that classic film. It’s a bit pretentious and arrogant to think that this low budget affair can come close to reproducing what that film did back in the 1970’s. Why can’t the folks who make these kinds of films allow the film to stand on its own and aspire to something unique and exciting for its own merits? Fortunately the box art is just marketing hype, probably written by some advertisement executive who never actually even saw the film. This isn’t The Exorcist, nor does it actually try to be. Truth be told, the film doesn’t play out like your normal run of the mill possession films at all. It has a rather clever angle that might be more Sybil than Exorcist.
Dr. Jane Van Dopp (van Houten) has been appointed by the court to travel to a remote island where a young girl has been accused of molesting and trying to kill a young baby. It appears there are some mental issues in the case, and the Doc has been sent to do psychological profile. The trip begins with a bad enough omen. She is driven off the road by two speeding cars, and into the sea. She barely escapes with her life. In town she finds her presence isn’t exactly wanted. She finally meets the young Dorothy Mills (Murray). The girl appears to exhibit a classic case of multiple personalities. The Doc finds herself compelled to be somewhat protective of Dorothy, who is the subject of hostility from the local residents. Against the advice of many, she continues her investigation until she stumbles upon the island’s dirty secret. The local priest and church members believe she is possessed by a demon, but rather than try to help her, they are using the demon to communicate with their dead relatives. The Doc considers the treatment abuse and steps up her efforts to have Dorothy moved to safety, until she appears to hear the voice of her own dead son come from the girl. The truth is more powerful than simple demonic possession.
This is a low budget film made with cooperation of the Irish Film Institute. The Island location is a wonderful place for this story to unfold. We not only get the requisite isolation, but we also have a very atmospheric layer built directly into the cinematography. The often misty and dark locations work perfectly to that end. The acting couldn’t be described as outstanding, and some of it is rather poor, but I was particularly haunted by young Jenn Murray, who plays the troubled Dorothy Mills. The kid has a very creepy presence that really allows you to buy into her condition. She appears to be a blank slate where these various personalities are allowed to paint their own character, to be quickly replaced when it’s time for another. Either this girl is really seriously disturbed, or she’s a brilliant young actress. Carice van Houten is also quite good in the role of the child psychologist. Her own recent loss plugs her into the events in a more personal way.
I think this one is worth giving a try, if only because it’s original enough to keep your attention through some awkward pacing. You’ll find the truth to be somewhat clever. I’m not sure if it’s been done quite this way before. Without ruining your experience, I can promise you that this isn’t a typical demon story at all. It’s not a terribly bloody affair, and you won’t find a lot of messy deaths to keep you entertained. You’ll have to rely on the fact that it’s an intelligent story. Combined with the exotic feel of the locations, I thing you’ll find the case of Dorothy Mills well worth your time. I was reminded a bit of The X-Files throughout. I’m not sure if it was the atmosphere or simply that I saw a little bit of Scully in the Doc. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there is a lot of Scully in this character. So I encourage X-Files fans to give this one a look.
Dorothy Mills is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film is very dark, and the air is often filled with mist. This doesn’t exactly allow for the sharpest picture going. There isn’t as much contrast, either, so I don’t think you’re going to be calling this one rich in detail. With that said, I should point out that the image does a lot to paint a mood here and should not be discarded out of hand because of these elements. The picture is clean and occasionally the views of the ocean and shoreline are pretty spectacular. There is a scene where Dorothy is standing against the background of a huge cliff and the ocean below. That’s some sweet photography for a low budget film. There are some day, well lit examples, of how nice the image can really be. Unfortunately there is a lot of the blue tinting that has become so overused in recent years. This is one film that doesn’t require any artificial enhancements for the sake of ambiance.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track doesn’t offer a very wide sound field at all. This is a very quiet film for the most part. When sound does come to life, it’s clear enough, but don’t expect an aggressive mix. You can hear the dialog, and the occasional score elements are usually pretty subtle. This film reminds me of the old classic Hammer films. The ADR stuff is turned way up. Listen as people walk, and you’ll find footsteps are exaggerated in volume, just like Hammer did it.
The Making Of Dorothy Mills: This feature runs nearly a half hour. There’s a lot of French with subtitles. I found it a bit hard to watch. It’s a typical cast and crew sound bite, mixed with film clips piece.
This is a classic case of the box itself making me very wary of the film, but once I started watching it, it pulled me in. Forget about whatever kind of film you think this is supposed to be, trust me, it’s not that kind of film. Go into it with no expectations, and I think you’ll be rewarded with a pretty creepy movie by the time it’s over. The ending is particularly chilling, but not in a bloody or intense way. You really just have to see it to understand. While you might see some of it coming, you won’t see it all. You go in thinking one thing, and you get another. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”