Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman make their full length debut with their humorous subversions of supernatural horror. Featuring strong performances and sharp writing, Extra Ordinary is a treat for horror fans looking for a chuckle.
I was apprehensive going into Extra Ordinary, seeing as my entire personal experience of Ireland starts and ends with a layover in Dublin, and a Flogging Molly concert. On top of that, I have developed a distaste for a trend in independent horror films which I have started to call “Art House Horror”: films that focus on aesthetics at the expense of plot and characterization; critical darlings that toe the line between being simply dull and being in dire need of a visit to the proctologist so they can get their heads removed from their own asses. To my relief, Extra Ordinary recognizes that such an approach in a comedy setting would be disastrous.
Set in a small Irish town, the film follows three central characters: Rose Dooley, a medium haunted by the death of her father, who has forsaken her gift of speaking to the dead, preferring a quiet life of teaching driving. Martin Martin, a single father still haunted by the nagging ghost of his dead wife. And Christian Winter, an American musician desperate to escape his status as a one-hit-wonder, even if it means resorting to satanic rituals and incantations.
Most of the humor in this film could be described as “clever,” more often eliciting air blown out of one’s nostrils as opposed to hearty belly-laughs. The way the film portrays supernatural forces and rituals offers a clever twist on the genre’s conventions, as they are presented as daily mundane tasks prone to human-mistakes, akin to ordering Chinese takeout. The film also offers plenty of visual gags, including one of the slowest car chases ever put to film. Extra Ordinary, however, is well paced, and the style of humor effectively grows in absurdity throughout, until the over-the-top-in-a-good-way ending renders the “clever” tag moot.
The performances of the main cast are uniformly quite good: Barry Ward delivers an impressive array of physical and character acting as Martin Martin is possessed by multiple souls of quirky deceased people. Maeve Higgins gives a nuanced performance as Rose Dooley, knowing exactly when to rein in her performance to provide a lense for the “normal” everywoman, and when to dial up the comedic elements of her character, all while never losing Rose’s layered characterization. Will Forte, however, steals the show as Christian Winter. The Saturday Night Live alumnus shines as the prototypical megalomaniacal washed-up musician, masterfully presenting a mask of calculated control and a counter-mask of a bat-shit desperate man on the edge.
The use of special effects in Extra Ordinary is, in a word, uneven. Realistic depictions of blood and floating people are contrasted with wild CGI sequences rendered on an indie film’s budget. While a strong argument could be made that the hokey CGI is used to underline the absurdity of the situation in which it is used, it does have the potential to take the audience out of the world of the film even for a second.
If you are inexperienced in deciphering the Irish brogue, I would highly recommend viewing Extra Ordinary with subtitles. Viewing this film from the lens of an American indoctrinated in the Hollywood system of filmmaking from a young age, there were several slang terms and colloquialisms that went straight over my head. I recall a few jokes not connecting, and I can only assume this was due to assumed cultural knowledge to which I was not privy.
Every horror-comedy film lies on a spectrum between two respective horrific and comedic extremes. Extra Ordinary falls closer to the comedic end, sharing more in common with the likes of What We Do In The Shadows rather than The Evil Dead. As much a love letter to supernatural horror as it is a droll subversion of the genre’s tropes, Extra Ordinary strikes a keen balance between frights and laughs, offering enough drama to keep the audience invested, while never needing to take itself too seriously.
Extra Ordinary premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March. It was released in U.K. cinemas on 25th October 2019.