Directed by Stephen Gaffney
Starring Ciaran McCabe, Aaron Blake & Aislinn Ni Uallacháin
Film review by Monica Jowett
Being bullied can never be a pleasant experience and the consequences are rarely considered by those who carry it out. In Stephen Gaffney’s Bully, which he wrote and directed, a teenage boy is facing torment from a variety of people which causes an outcome you wouldn’t expect.
Bully follows Karl (Ciaran McCabe), a student preparing for leaving school and trying to decide what to do next. He has become a target of a gang of bullies, led by Jason (Aaron Blake) and he struggles with home life due to an abusive father. With a lack of support he becomes victim to manipulation from a teacher and turns to a friendship online with a mysterious woman Ruby (Aislinn Ní Uallacháin) to help overcome his bullying and subsequent depression.
A strong start to the film, the script carefully outlines the torment Karl faces, and how he self-harms as a result; the opening scene has Karl cutting his wrist with a razor blade, blood dropping into the sink. At home, his father mocks and berates him constantly yet his mother, who also suffers abuse from his father, does little to help. At school the bullies physically shove him to the ground, kicking him as he lays there and then post videos of it online, continuing the attack on a different platform. One teacher, Fallon (Kieran O’Reilly) notices and seems to care and offers help, though he too has underlying motives that does nothing to help Karl as he becomes too close and makes sexual advances on the confused teenager. It is easy to pity Karl, and the cruelty is uncomfortable to watch.
However, the script takes a turn in the third act. Karl is becoming more unstable made worse by his parents and Christina (Chelsea O’Connor) a girl who dumps him after finding out about Ruby, the mysterious girl online. Ruby, who has become a friend after seeing videos of Karl being kicked by Jason and continues to reach out as a friend to see if he is OK. An act of kindness, Ruby becomes close to Karl and possibly a negative influence, whose actions become uncharacteristic and erratic compared to how we see him at the start. From a solid beginning of a film about bullying, Bully unwinds turning into a thriller like film, as Karl starts to fight back against his bullies and possibly take revenge.
The characters are given minimal definition. His parents are shown as unambitious, his father also drinks a lot, yet they are constantly telling off Karl to keep him in school. Fallon is portrayed as creepy, especially when he talking to Karl one on one, the inappropriate relationship is clear to see. Even Karl, who primarily appears to be timid, almost spineless then changes into being angry and manipulative, never shows another layer to his character.
Gaffney, having previously directed short films may have left his first feature length film run on a bit, making the plot stumble in the last half. Nevertheless, it is a strong effort that provides a stark comment on the consequences of bullying.
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