Cathy Brady’s Wildfire (2019) begins with archive footage of news coverage of the conflict in Northern Ireland. This provides context for the film. It is a film about the pervasive small-town mentality of Ireland, and about the treatment of women with mental illnesses, but it is also a film about these things in the context of the post-conflict state of Northern Ireland specifically.
Wildfire is the story of two sisters who lost their mother in somewhat mysterious circumstances. In the beginning, Kelly (Nika McGuigan) shows up after disappearing for a year. Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) is at once hugely relieved and absolutely terrified of losing her all over again. The sisters argue and reconcile, enjoying fond memories of their mother and then blowing up again. It is in the silences, when Kelly and Lauren sit with one another that McGuigan and Noone’s performances really shine.
As Kelly’s behaviour becomes more manic, their aunt Veronica and Lauren’s partner Sean insist that she needs help, afraid that she might “go the same way as her mother”. Lauren refuses. She doesn’t think there is anything wrong with her sister. In fact, as momentum builds, Lauren goes from reprimanding Kelly for her erratic behaviour to joining her in it. The film climaxes with the sisters in a kind of folie à deux that has a feeling of inevitability about it.
Lauren and Kelly may be disconnected and unpredictable, but the people of their small border town are parochial and sinister. There is no right or wrong in Wildfire, only two sisters trying to manage their grief over things that aren’t talked about.