Bainne | Jack Reynor’s Fantastic Famine Set Ghost Story

Appearing in everything from blockbusters to arthouse projects to domestic indies, Jack Reynor is already one of Ireland’s most successful actors. Yet, with his debut short Bainne (‘milk’ for all those not versed as gaeilge), he has proven himself a formidable force behind the camera too.

A Japanese cinema lover – as evident from his arthouse film-focused Instagram pageBainne is the perfect vehicle for Reynor. 18 minutes in length, it is based on a folk tale from Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish writer who collected Japanese myth and whose writings inspired the acclaimed 1965 horror anthology film Kwaidan.

Yet, while Bainne is steeped in the Asian country’s brand of horror – it’s a ghost story, it features a ghostly woman in white, it’s shot in stark black and white – the short still feels very Irish. Reynor’s frequent acting collaborator Will Poulter (Detroit, Midsommar) stars as a farmhand working for a local landlord in the last year of The Great Famine of Ireland. In order to survive he’s had to harden his heart to the plight of his fellow countrymen. An early scene sees him hiding food from an impoverished man, later feeling great shame for his actions.

That evening, however, the main character encounters a ghostly woman stealing milk from his landlord’s barn. Given a chance at redemption, he offers to help the mysterious figure. This is despite not knowing whether she is a friend or foe.

Immediately striking about Bainne is Reynor’s command of atmosphere. By the time the short is set about a million have died in the famine and another million have left the country. From the film’s vast shots of the harsh, sparsely populated landscape – Bainne’s small cast of four working to the movie’s advantage – viewers understand the massive scope of the desolation, the monochrome imagery only adding to the almost apocalyptic bleakness.

Reynor’s script is short on dialogue. But who needs words when Poulter, with his skinny frame and expressive face, tells viewers all they need to know about his character – a man who has witnessed countless atrocities and done things he’s not proud of to stay alive. If not handled well, viewers could dislike Poulter for ignoring the starving man early on. Yet, we feel his guilt and wonder too what we would do in similar circumstances.

With such an emphasis on mood, it takes a while for the story to unravel itself, with Reynor building great tension as to what the motives of the ghostly woman are. Is she an avenging angel for the starving man? Or is she something else entirely, offering Poulter a chance at redemption? Without spoiling, Bainne culminates in an audacious, allegorical and incredibly emotionally rewarding finale. Not only does it wrap up all the short’s loose ends, it ties into the film’s central motif beautifully.

Having worked with the likes of Ari Aster, Ben Wheatley, Kathryn Bigelow and Lenny Abrahamson, it seems those directors’ skill and thoughtfulness have influenced Reynor. His strong first short suggests more great things are to come from the budding Irish filmmaker.

Bainne screened on Sky Arts on March 17.

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