Sound or the lack of it is an under-appreciated element of cinema, so much so that films that pay extra attention to it stand out.
The Oscar-nominated “Sound of Metal” is wholly conceived around loud noise and learning to live in silent deafness. The filmmakers behind “Rose Plays Julie” take care to use muffled sound, soft ringing or stony silence to show not just the effect of injuries, but numbing shock and momentary disconnects from the world.
That underscores how Rose (Ann Skelly of TV’s “Vikings”) has become unmoored from her reality. A student at a Dublin veterinary school, she is reeling not just from the extended section of her lab study involving animal euthanasia. She’s gotten news and doesn’t know quite what to do with it.
She can’t complete that first phone call to London. But when she does, she catches the actress (Orla Brady of TV’s “Into the Badlands” and “Fringe”) in a World War I nurse’s uniform on the set.
“My name is Rose,” and although the actress once wrote “no contact” on the adoption forms, the young woman is reaching out “because I don’t know what else to do.”
This isn’t the most welcome contact Ellen Wise has had, and she lets that be known. But Rose won’t be rebuffed. She books a flight, checks out the address she was given, and seeing the house is for sale, contacts the agent for a showing.
We have plenty of time in the first act of this Christine Malloy/Joe Lawlor thriller to consider how shaken and disturbed this news has made Rose, who was “Julie” on her birth certificate. Stalking somebody by touring their home, looking at their photos and prescription bottles, meeting her (other) daughter (Sadie Soverall)? Creepy.
And finally getting some answers from Ellen doesn’t improve Rose’s mood or state. There’s a reason she wanted “no contact,” a reason she gave up an unplanned child in her ’30s, and no, it’s not just an “actress and career” thing.
“I was raped.”
Lawlor and Molloy tease out the push and pull of this daughter/biological mother “relationship” into a sort of resigned dread. We’re not sure who we can believe, not sure of Rose’s motives, not sure whether Ellen should be worried for herself or the man she names as her attacker.
And we’re REALLY weirded out by the many scenes of Rose’s veterinary classes and their animal deaths and necropsies.
Skelly makes Rose seem poker-faced and sane. But can we be sure? “Young and impulsive” is a universal truth. How will she act on what she’s trying to process? Numbed by news or stunned by violence, we hear the silences Rose slips into in a story she narrates.
The script also lays out the psychic pain of hearing all this in her ’20s. She’s had just enough time to rationalize that “It wasn’t my fault,” that “whatever the reason, I was wanted.” Now that’s off the table, and in the worst way imaginable.
The story’s direction becomes deflatingly predictable once all the various characters and plot elements are set up. But “Rose Plays Julie” is a psychological thriller where pathos, suspense and the silent confusion of our heroine compete for primacy. Start to finish, this is damned unsettling.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen
Credits: Scripted and directed by Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy. A Film Movement+ release.
Running time: 1:40