Director: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy
Cast: Aidan Gillen
Watch online: Curzon Home Cinema
Thank goodness for unexpected treats. Starring Aiden Gillen as a grieving (and aggrieved) businessman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Mister John is a sultry, sweaty, psycho-sexual success for directors Lawlor and Molloy.
Essentially a soulful take on one man’s descent into social stagnation, and his subsequent reinvention in foreign climes, Mister John represents something of a watershed moment for the historically underused Gillen. It’s a terrific, expressive performance from the Game of Thrones regular, a hypnotic turn in a prickly and compulsive film that defies easy categorisation. The film itself is an absolute gem – think Only God Forgives, via Tales of the Unexpected, with a screenplay by Graham Greene. A heady, quixotic cocktail indeed.
Gillen plays Gerry, a cuckolded husband in the middle of a matrimonial crisis, who flees the country to deal with the aftermath of his brother John’s untimely and mysterious death. He arrives in Singapore a lost soul, isolated and alone, and struggling to adapt to his adjusted domestic situation. Then, while contemplating his brother’s demise by the side of a lake, Gerry gets bitten by an amorous snake, with enthralling consequences for his hitherto subdued libido. Typical. Freud meets God in the garden of good and evil.
Gerry takes solace in his brother’s hostess bar and its miscreant inhabitants, who make incessant demands upon his wavering sobriety. He moves in with John’s widow (Zoe Tay) and starts to assimilate his brother’s personality. Piece by piece, Gerry takes on the identity of the enigmatic Mister John, and for a little while, he is liberated – sexually, physically, emotionally. He even grows the cojones to go after his brother’s criminal cohorts. The metamorphosis suits him, albeit temporarily. Lines get blurred when Gerry’s new vagabond reality slams head-first into his suppressed emotional past, and memories of his wife – in truth just an ocean or two away – return to haunt him.
In the wrong hands, this could so easily slip into some kind of pulpy revenge drivel. But Lawlor and Malloy are operating beyond the levels of such balderdash. Their film is a subtle and sombre work, punctuated by moments of grand wit, creeping dread and occasional poignancy. Take, for instance, an early scene in which Gillen watches a videotape of his brother interviewing a potential new employee. The candidate, a beautiful young hostess, reveals herself as a pre-op transsexual.
The outcome? Gerry is repulsed and bedevilled, all at once, at this stage unaware that he’s the one in transition, his consciousness expanding in sync with the exoticism of his surroundings. It’s the beginning of a process that will ultimately result in Gerry assuming the role of his dead brother. That is, until a redemptive, impromptu baptism brings his regeneration to a crashing halt.
What a thrill to find the BFI supporting something so capricious and beguiling.