In a quaint little town in Ireland where the existence of the paranormal is known and accepted as part of everyday life, Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins) makes her living in a job she knows she is not very good at, a driving instructor. So begins “Extra Ordinary,” the genre-bending comedic gem, from the writing/directing team of Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. A feature film debut film that is anything but ordinary, in the very best of ways.
The ostensibly average Rose has a set of supernatural abilities, known as “The Talents,” which allow her to speak to spirits. She refuses to use them ever since the death of her father, for which she blames herself. When Martin Martin (Barry Ward) hires her for driving lessons with the intention of getting her help with the badgering spirit of the deceased wife, Rose denies the request.
Little does Rose know that on the other side of town Christian Winter (Will Forte) a sinister devil-worshiping one-hit-wonder (the worst kind) is targeting Martin’s daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) as part of a ritual that will return him to the top of the charts. Rose reluctantly decides to help Martin in a race against time to prevent her from becoming Winter’s virgin sacrifice.
The story quickly builds from there in a surprisingly precise fashion combining elements of horror, comedy, and even romance. Ahern and Loughman expertly blends the genres giving each of them proper attention allowing them to unfold effectively. In lesser hands, the merging of genres can be jarring, as they attempt to crowbar one genre into another. That never happens here. Nothing is out of place or feels forced. Actually, it all feels quite natural, striking just the right tone. Like a good Irish stew, the multiple ingredients mix, retaining some of their own flavors while complimenting each other. There is an undeniable sweetness under the humor that is in turn heightened by moments of horror.
This balancing act is made even more impressive by the sheer volume of comedy throughout the film. Ahern and Loughman build a world where all the citizens add to the humor with charm and a touch of small-town politeness. Instead of veering down the easy path into overplayed small-town folk stereotypes, the characters are shown more respect. They feel like people you may have met before, not cliché caricatures. Deadpan, matter-of-fact frankness turn staggering moments such as a devil-worshiping ritual complete with levitating virgin, into a just-another-day-event that can be diffused to discuss what Chinese take out to order for dinner. This dry candor is used throughout the film making every conversation worth listening to keenly.
The directors are patient allowing time for the hilarity of their jokes to unexpectedly sneak up on you. Seemingly throwaway lines eventually hit with full comedic force. They extract laughs from awkwardness, an excruciatingly long glove changing scene, or an outrageously slow high-speed chase. Gross-out humor is also peppered into the mix. Martin is hacking up mouthfuls of creamy, gooey ectoplasm, while in the background Rose is watching, so unbothered that she continues to nonchalantly eat her bag of chips.
Even after watching the film for a second time, I found more laughs buried in the subtleties of the performance and the cleverly crafted dialogue that slips in-jokes in the most unlikely of places. This intricate attention to detail builds a world full of richly developed characters, both major and minor, each who adds layers of comedic depth. The amazing cast’s joint effort elevate the most mundane moments into opportunities of uproarious laughs.
Maeve Higgins (who also gets a writing credit) gives a true breakthrough performance here. She brings sweet innocence and warm-hearted naivety that are often obscures an underlying strength and determination, even as she goes head to head with a satan worshiper while simultaneously pursuing her shot at true love. You cannot help but root for her. Higgins’s background as a comedian must contribute to her exemplary comedic timing. She effortlessly lands laughs while putting her insecurities on full display. I am expecting we will be seeing a lot of her soon, in characters that transcend well beyond the overcrowded Irish Horror-Comedy-Romance genre.
Barry Ward more than meets the demands of his multifaceted role of Martin. He shows true flexibility as he pops back and forth between Martin and spirits that temporarily possess him. His pairing with Higgins is irresistible, together showing pure comedic and romantic chemistry.
The most wonderfully extravagant performance is by (no surprise) Will Forte as Christian Winter, the satanist one-hit-wonder clinging to fame. It is excessive in all the right ways while remaining restrained enough to take it right to the brink of going over the top. With his nagging and impatient wife (Claudia O’Doherty) at his side, he may be the funniest homicidal satanist ever on film. If you are a fan of his previous work like “Last Man on Earth,” you will love him here.
Throughout the film, Rose’s deceased father, Vincent (Risteard Cooper) also makes appearances in video segments from his supernatural videotape series that capture a straight out of the 80s feel. These cheesy vignettes serve as the narrator of the film at times, explaining the rules of the spiritual world. The corny video effects and Cooper’s wry, ultra-serious delivery make me think it had to be inspired by the Time-Life Supernatural book series commercials of the late 80s.
“Extra Ordinary” is deceptively calculated. As Winter cunningly says in the film, “the Devil is in the details and with this album (film) all the details are just right.” Ahern and Loughman committed to producing a quirky and unique experience and it pays off. Everything down to the funky atmospheric 80s synthesizer score and Winter’s embroidered cape, all add to the spirited script and performances to set just the right the tone. There are few missteps and things to be loved around every corner. Expect this cast and team of relative unknowns to lose that tag as the film looks destined to become a cult classic.
A spirited film with a sharp script, memorable performances and lots of laughs levitate this little horror-comedy from ordinary to extraordinary.