Where the Merrows Roam is an experimental Irish film written and directed by Colin Hickey. It exists entirely without dialogue, which brings unique delights and challenges. In Irish folklore, a merrow is a merman or mermaid. While much of the imagery relates to the sea, the film is firmly grounded in reality. Thus, the notion of merfolk is more of an insinuation of the magic of Ireland as actual Merrows are as elusive as the spoken script. Considering that sections of the feature present various groups of people at the seaside as well as in the country, much of the film is static. The actors are seen sitting quietly, portrayed in still life, but with ambient motion and sound.
Many scenes cut quickly cut as the pace varies, while others linger languidly over simple moments, such as girls riding bicycles on Irish backroads. Side note: if you’ve driven in Ireland, you know how insanely dangerous this is… the roads are narrow, lined with hedges, and drivers commonly speed. However, for the bucolic scenes in this film, there’s no traffic except the bicycles, and it reads as a tranquil experience. Given the lack of dialogue, the film depends on the delicate balance between the glorious cinematography, the shifting editing styles, and the brilliant music of Pipe Gaitan. While there’s no speech, the ambient sounds of the scenes are preserved, like a paintbrush in a can of water or a nail being hammered into a plank. There’s an odd, dreamlike quality at work here. A feature is defined as a film that runs longer than 40 minutes, Where the Merrows Roam clocks in at around an hour and thereby qualifies, but with the non-traditional structure, it feels in some moments too long and in others too short.
“…the notion of merfolk is more of an insinuation of the magic of Ireland.”
There are two primary reactions viewers will have to this film, depending on their own personality. For those who treasure dialogue (this reviewer among them), it’s hard to stay focused on it. It can feel like a long-form screensaver, a moving slide show from slices of life. More verbally oriented viewers will struggle. The film will come across as a playground of beautiful images and moments of revelation in quiet meditation for audience members who communicate better visually.
Above all, Where the Merrows Roam is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure film. When a beautiful young woman gazes pensively across the water, we decide if she’s thinking of the past or the future. Is she, perhaps, the memory of an older person remembering her younger self and revisiting what might have been? A brooding figure of a man seems angry, or is that just how his resting face looks? Is he planning violence? Is he missing the woman? Perhaps he’s just hungry. A young boy carries a toy rifle into the wilderness and practices hunting. Is he mimicking his father? You provide the narrative. Spanning the progress of the moments throughout the film, you may decide to map a larger narrative thread through the scenes.
On Hickey’s web page, he quotes influential Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky: “Never try to convey your idea to the audience – it is a thankless and senseless task. Show them life, and they’ll find within themselves the means to assess and appreciate it.” Where the Merrows Roam is an examination of that concept in which he implements it literally. How you respond to the film will reflect who you are. Like the meaning of the story itself, you will ultimately decide whether it has value as entertainment, meditation, or a celebration of life in a beautiful country.
"…the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure film."