A man reminisces of a time in the mid-90s when he was dragged on a trip at 14 years of age. His mom and a few other residents of his estate hired a bus to tour the coastal side of Cork. However tragedy strikes in the middle of the journey. This jovial trip suddenly turns sinister as the paranoid bus driver tries to figure out exactly who and what to trust on this journey.
Coast Road takes a cavalcade of local Cork actors (and even some non-professionals) and puts them in an enclosed space to just act out in what feels like a slice of life adventure for the first act. This all works with some careful and honest character writing as well as a cavalcade of references to the time period. Discounted PlayStations (PlayStation Ones even!), video cassette recordings of The Rock and Robbie Williams from Take That stories abound. While it doesn’t hit you over the head with the nostalgia it makes the experience feel all the more authentic.
Also helping is how these folks interact. You really feel like they’re (mostly) a close-knit community that was sadly dying out around this time period in Ireland. I just recognise a lot of familiar idioms of my own childhood-like the exasperation of hearing your mom and a friend gossip about nonsense-and it really makes you feel at home. This, of course, changes with a twist some time passed the first act which puts a much more sinister edge onto the tale.
There’s some great tension built up here; the use of the enclosed space and the disquieting driving really amps up suspicion. However, part of the issue is that there are certain important characters that do not feel sufficiently built up until the moment right before we need to turn into this twist. While there’s reasons given for our lack of depth prior it honestly feels like they were writing an entirely different movie until they got to this point rather than feeling earned or built into. While I shan’t spoil the reveal, it’s a little muddled on the logistical end and leaves us with more questions than answers.
Brian Stynes does a lot with a modest production and there are some great spots and landscapes here that look great and cleverly integrated into the plot. Cork has such a naturally beautiful aesthetic more filmmakers should take advantage of. It’s also able to balance the character interactions in a way where a lot of the key players feel well developed with nobody standing out above the rest. However, the bus scenes do feel a little fumbled and you really get the lack of space available for shooting. This is a logistical problem that couldn’t have been tackled but they stood out to me as we spend a lot of the movie on this bus.
Coast Road is a very enjoyable film with some solid intrigue and dynamic layered character work where it counts. While the mystery thriller element feels a little undercooked, you do grow attached to our group with some great naturalistic acting and a feel for the time period which can hit on your nostalgia if you’re around that age without it feeling smothered in that sensibility. It’s a ropey film in a lot of places but it’s an enjoyable little trip that turns very dark very quickly.
This was paired with a screening of another Cork film called Bound to Work when I first saw it. I actually have a scene in it though very brief. There’s a boundless energy and decent rapport from the cast which really carries it. I particularly liked Mark Atkin who was consistently entertaining in every hair brained scheme he tried to pull. I feel the episodic structure really hurt the pacing and the moments of pathos didn’t entirely land here but it’s a lot of fun and a decent little comedy of errors. 6/10
For more updates on Coast Road, please visit their website.