Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan Gleeson, stars as a lonely twenty-something farmer who latches onto a plan to start an upmarket escort service after meeting a call girl.
Tom Hall’s 2011 film Sensation, which he writes and directs, has to be one of the most depressing films about sex ever made. The story focuses on twenty-something loner Donal (Domhnall Gleeson) who finds his father’s unconscious body slouched in the stairlift. There’s little son can do for dad whose cries for help went unheard due to Donal’s preoccupation with a dirty magazine and penchant for masturbating in the farther reaches of the family’s farmland. With mum gone and no siblings, Donal is left to bury his father and inherit the farm. But what is Donal going to do with a farm he has no interest in?
Left to ponder that thought he sells the sheep to raise enough cash to fund the only passion in his life. Namely, to get laid. With plenty of solo practice in the bank Donal should be a stallion in the sack but his diminished social skills, outdated fashion sense and unkempt styling has left him not only girlfriend-less but, as it turns out, essentially friendless too. One particularly downbeat shot sees Donal access his mobile phone’s address book to find only four names in it – one of these is his dead father, another the local Chinese takeaway. Primed then for the full Girlfriend Experience as only a true professional escort girl can provide, Donal spends the money he made on the sheep to rent Kim (Luanne Gordon).
“Luanne Gordon’s wily whore knows a sap when she spots one, hooking Domhnall Gleeson’s Donal in with a fleeting blowjob for serious capital.”
It doesn’t take long for Donal to come…to his senses. Helping Kim after a nasty incident with a fellow punter, he takes her home off the metre. Amidst some sexual tension erupting from his ravenous libido, leading to one of the film’s funniest moments involving Kim’s helping hand, the two happen across the idea of Donal funding Kim’s proposed business venture. She wants to start an upmarket escort agency and needs a backer. The wily whore knows a sap when she spots one, hooking Donal in with a fleeting blowjob for serious capital.
Hall’s film paints a bleak picture of prostitution and loneliness and has a unwillingness to bring much joy to proceedings. But in doing so Hall dodges the typical character arc despite some obvious nods to convention. Donal’s directionless outlook and inability to approach the opposite sex is of course on the agenda as the film progresses but Sensation doesn’t pander to expectation and happy endings. Indeed, the sadness in the story is what really distinguishes it. And, while Donal needs Kim more than she needs him, the culmination of their story is somewhat unexpected.
Sensation is a fairly straightforward story built, as the title suggests, on a relatively sensationalist concept. Up and comer Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan Gleeson, is a definite highlight, his mixture of warm-hearted kindness with fallibility and often anger derived from constant self-doubt makes his character Donal’s journey more interesting. However, while its glass-is-half-empty approach is breached every so often with a well-timed laugh the film isn’t as funny as it could have been, or perhaps, should be.