Thrillers are designed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. They’re exciting, white-knuckled, and hard-hitting outings with action and surprises around every corner – or at least they’re supposed to be. Writer-director Colum Eastwood’s feature debut, Black Medicine, wants to tick all these boxes to fulfil its gritty premise, but unfortunately plays everything far too safe for the thrills to work.
The plot follows Jo (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), a skilled doctor who performs illegal operations within Dublin’s criminal underbelly. Her life is suddenly plunged into chaos, however, when she decides to go against her dangerous employers by sheltering a young girl (Amybeth McNulty) who they were planning to use as a reluctant organ donor for a major procedure. Thrust into an impossible moral dilemma, Jo must decide if saving the life of one outweighs that value of another.
It’s an intriguing set-up, though Eastwood doesn’t go far enough to get the most out of it. Throughout most of the proceedings it’s heavily suggested that Jo has no escape from the difficult choice she must make. And at one point it seems the decision has even been made for her. She’s presented with what is essentially an A or B scenario and must weigh up which is the lesser evil. The problem here is that this crucial part of the script is barely touched upon – Eastwood paws at these issues enough to acknowledge their existence but never gives them the attention they needed to give his script depth. And when the decision is ultimately made, the conclusion consequently comes across as an easy out than a natural resolution of events.
This approach, doing the bare minimum, likewise extends to the rest of the thriller. The main players lack the development to become the complex characters they were intended to be. This is especially notable with the crime family’s matriarch (Orla Brady), who’s written as a counterpoint to Jo in that they’re both mothers faced with a similar predicament. As the plot continues, however, the mother’s empathetic qualities are lost as she becomes more akin to a conventional villain.
For what it’s worth, Black Medicine is a completely passable and entertaining thriller. What makes it disappointing is that viewers will be able to see every opportunity that’s been missed, as therefore the film this should have (and could have) been.
Black Medicine is released digitally on demand on 12th July 2021.
Watch the trailer for Black Medicine here: