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Film Review

BLACK MEDICINE (2021) Review

Neil reviews writer director Colum Eastwood’s BLACK MEDICINE calling it “tense and thrilling.” The film hits digital platforms today.

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Black Medicine (Signature Films)

Signature Entertainment presents Black Medicine on digital platforms now.

Synopsis

Jo is a black-market medic who carries out illegal operations for the criminal underworld. When she gives refuge to a young girl, she must choose between breaking her medical oath or crossing her ruthless employers. 

Review

Black Medicine is a complex suspense-thriller built around a set of dark, yet hugely compelling characters. The debut feature from writer-director Colum Eastwood, winner of the Screen International Star of Tomorrow 2020 award.

At the heart of the film is the captivating performance by Antonia Campbell-Hughes. Campbell-Hughes plays Jo, a former anaesthetist who has fallen on severely hard times after the loss of her teenage daughter. She has a strained relationship with ex-husband Richard (Keith McErlean) and works as an off-books doctor on the streets of Belfast.

Jo is by no means a sympathetic character despite her tragic past. Where we find her in the film she is cold, detached and sinking towards rock bottom. Played by a lesser actress Jo could easily alienate the audience. But with Campbell-Hughes embodying her she becomes something more of an anti-hero in Eastwood’s story. Her arc is satisfying but also compelling to the viewer.

That arc is strongly supported by Amybeth McNulty as Áine, the focus of a plot to secure a heart on the black market. Áine is equally as damaged as Jo. Together their relationship could, and probably should, be toxic. But the two women find a kinship in their shared losses with both actors showing a keen sense of emotion which beautifully translates to the screen.

Then there’s our perceived antagonist, Bernadette, played flawlessly by Orla Brady. Typically known for more maternal roles, Brady is used exquisitely to disarm the viewer. Those maternal instincts drive Bernadette who, one first glance, is simply trying to look after her daughter. But as we drill down deeper in to the murky Belfast underground we discover that her methods are much darker than her motives. Brady’s ability to disarm makes her perfect for the role. I found myself questioning whether I would go to such lengths for a family member. Kudos to her for taking on a role as challenging as this.

Clocking in at 90mins, Black Medicine is an incredibly taught thriller. No time is wasted in setting up the premise. Beyond this no time is wasted in throwing complication after complication at the characters. Eastwood continually dials up the suspense. Towards the end I found myself holding my breath it was so tense. Then, in the film’s most shocking moment, Eastwood relaxes his grasp on the viewer and allows Black Medicine to exhale in its closing moments. Perfectly constructed and masterfully executed.

Composer James Everett also deserves a huge round of applause for adding to the tension. The score is magnificently constructed to elevate the tone of the film. Emotional but also tense, it never once distracted me from the action on screen.

Verdict

The words tense and thrilling don’t quite do Black Medicine justice. This is edge of your seat stuff. Beautifully shot and wonderfully performed by Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Orla Brady.

Signature Entertainment presents Black Medicine on digital platforms now.


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