After this year gutting and revelatory Promising Young Woman from Emerald Fennell and Tape from Deborah Kampmeier, I didn’t think I could take another rape revenge movie no matter how original and empowering. But Rose Plays Julie, directed by Irish filmmakers Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, upends revenge tropes with unsettling and eerie imagery as it blends thriller, horror film and mother daughter bonding story, told via two female protagonists who flip the tables on victimhood.
The film starts with an ordinary enough premise as young veterinary student Rose (Ann Skelly), whose adoptive mother has recently died, locates and stalks her birth mother, Ellen (Orla Brady), an actress living in London. Rose gets more than she bargained for when she finally confronts Ellen. Although at first startled and reticent, Ellen finally opens up to Rose and tells her, in sobering, shattering testimony, that she was raped while volunteering for an archeological dig. After some soul searching, Ellen decided it would be more healing for her not to end the resulting pregnancy but to give the baby up for adoption.
The revelation sets Rose on a quest to find the rapist who is her biological father, Peter (Aidan Gillen), a smug archaeologist in Dublin. Donning a wig, Rose poses as an actress named Julie who is conducting research for a stage role. This one of many instances in which this taut and inventive film uses acting and identity as metaphor. Rose and Ellen bond as they excavate the past and seek violent redemption. Both Brady and Skelly are terrific in crafting the symbiotic relationship that gives Rose Plays Julia its deft twist on a mother/daughter love story.