Cillian and his child Daniel live an isolated, nomadic existence in the harsh but beautiful landscape of western Ireland, where they fight the elements and scrabble together a semblance of a life.
But their bond is challenged after the father murders a woman in cold blood, sending him down a dark spiral. Soon the differences between parent and child become fissures, and then chasms, as Daniel tries to assert some independence and separation upon reaching adolescence.
The most striking element of writer-director John Robert Brown’s stark, brutal family drama is its desolate yet wildly gorgeous setting, which cradles the strange, isolated family at the core of the film’s mixture of dark fairy tale and Western frontier story.
Raw, stark and austere, the land shapes the psyches of the film’s characters in an indelible way, captured in breathtaking, often stunning cinematography, which uses a poetic application of light, shadow and fog to visually sculpt this stripped-down, desolate corner of the world.
Paired with an equally stripped down yet evocative sound design — mixing the sound of wind, water and minimal score and dialogue — viewers get an intimate, raw look at the lack of contact that Cillian and his child have with any outside society. In this way, the film resembles a Western, using the emptiness of the landscape around them to evoke a world without laws, norms or conventions, where man can shape his life according to his whims and sometimes dark fancies.
Using very little dialogue, actors Barry Ward and Jordanne Jones are able to evoke a close, complex and combative dynamic through gestures, silences and looks. This family exist outside any norms, and despite the openness of the almost primal Irish land around them, their psychological world is cramped and misshapen, distorted by Cillian’s disturbing dominance and control over Daniel. But when Daniel reaches adolescence — and certain truths assert themselves — the pair of them reach a turning point that will rupture their cloistered world irrevocably.
In many ways, “My Father, My Blood” is a mesmerizing, minimalist drama that works in mystery, mood and atmosphere to tell its story. Offering little in terms of backstory or narrative information, yet powerful in insinuation and suggestion, some may find the film’s reticence and lack of easy answers frustrating. But it’s this sense of mystery that transforms its characters into primal archetypes, and landscapes into living, haunting presences, with the pitiless ability to shape the souls and fates that wander through them.