Following her boyfriend’s suicide, supermarket clerk Morvern Callar passes off his unpublished novel as her own. With the money her boyfriend left for his funeral, she leaves Scotland for Ibiza where she travels with her closest friend. The journey prompts a series of internal and external transformations for Morvern– ones which bring to light her experiences of grief, memory, freedom, and desire.
There’s a long line of directors who could be considered underrated in comparison to their flashier, more famous, but not as talented counterparts, so let me begin by adding another name to the list: Lynne Ramsay. Ramsay is the writer and director of just a handful of films, but the ones she has done have rocked their audiences. You’ve got the award-winning Ratcatcher, a coming of age film about a boy who accidentally kills a friend while playing.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, and Ezra Miller) is a brutal, dark story about the relationship between a mother and a disturbed child that will haunt even the most callous viewer. And then we’ve got Morvern Callar, the story of a girl by the same name (played by Samantha Morton) who comes home to find her boyfriend has killed himself and left her a note detailing his final wishes. None of these films have been hugely popular box office smashes, one big reason that you may not be familiar with the titles, but they have been much celebrated by critics. They are also not your run of the mill horror films, per se, but instead dark, sometimes disturbing dramas about real people doing the wrong things. In fact, if you’re looking for an effects-filled gorefest or a teenage jump-scare compilation, these aren’t the films for you. If you are a fan of slow-burning, dark, depressing stories, by all means, please read on…
As I already mentioned, the film opens with our title character cuddling with her dead boyfriend, a recent victim of suicide. He has written a note to her (Morvern), asking her to send out a novel manuscript for publication, as well as giving her access to his ATM card. It’s just before Christmas, so she opens the presents he had wrapped for her, one of them being a mix tape of songs he picked out for her.
If you want morbid, you’ve got it here right from the start. The fact that she doesn’t tell anyone he’s dead, but instead says he’s at home, or that he has left her, even at one point saying he’s just left the country completely, adds to the dark feel of the movie. And when she realizes that she needs to take care of the body that is still laying on her apartment floor, stinking the place up, it gets even darker. But let me say right now, this is NOT the focus of the movie. Yes, there are some disturbing parts relating to the suicide, but Morvern Callar primarily focuses on Morvern trying to move on, trying to put together some semblance of normality, of reality, in her now very messed up life. She ends up taking out some money and going on a wild, spur of the moment trip with her friend and co-worker, Lanna (Kathleen McDermott), finding plenty of adventure along the way.
Let me reiterate once more: this is not a horror movie. However, if you are the type of horror fan that is able to enjoy many different types of films, not just the ‘boobs and blood slashers’ (I’m sure there are some of you out there, right?), you’ll agree that this is a really well done movie. All of the acting is fantastic, especially Samantha Morton in the title role.
The way the movie is shot is also great, going from a dark, empty shot of a train station with a single person on a bench and a ringing payphone in the corner, then over to an ecstasy-fueled rave full of loud colored lights, sweaty dancing people, and a reckless abandon. As perverse and morbid as it begins, Morvern Callar is really just a coming of age story focusing on a young woman who has no choice but to make a change in her life. It’s not extreme horror (I can’t stress this enough), but rather a well written story that I would highly recommend. In fact, if you have a chance to check out anything by director Lynne Ramsay, do yourself a favor and go for it. Great, hard-hitting stories, well crafted films, all of them.