Arguably one of the best film’s at this year’s FrightFest, it’s Closing Night film Abner Pastoll’s A Good Woman Is Hard To Find feels even more ferocious now that it’s being released just in time for Hallowe’en.

A gritty urban crime drama that feels like a collision between Park Chan-wook and Ken Loach, Lady Vengeance hits Titanic Town, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find sees washed-out, put-upon widow and single mum Sarah (Sarah Bolger) struggle to survive and keep her children fed and clothed as she negotiates the toxic masculinity of patriarchal Belfast, every odious man she encounters from the supermarket security guard, to the uncaring police to the petty criminals and gangsters who invade her life, watching her, coldly assessing her, judging her, demeaning her.

Stuck on a poverty-stricken housing estate, ravaged by drugs, petty crime and random violence, her husband having been murdered in front of their young son (rendering him an elective mute!) in what the police have dismissed as a tit-for-tat killing in a turf war between rival dealers, simply the price of doing business, Sarah is barely making ends meet, forced to scrupulously budget for even the basic necessities – in one scene she’s even forced to cannibalise the batteries from one of the kids’ toys in order to power her vibrator for a little alone time.

Her life is turned upside down when motor-mouthed petty criminal Tito (Andrew Simpson) invades her home. Tito’s just ripped off local Mr Big, Leo (an effete, scenery chewing Edward Hogg), a vicious psychopath and grammar Nazi who’ll take a claw hammer to your head if you confuse your metaphors and your similies, let alone nick his gear and try to sell it. Tito just needs somewhere to lie low for a little while, a place to stash the drugs he’s stolen from Leo while he makes plans to sell them, and he’ll even pay Sarah for her silence.

But as Leo and his gang tear apart Belfast looking for Tito, the nervy cuckoo in Sarah’s nest pushes her too far, kicking off a spiral of violence that will force Sarah to reach deep within herself and change her life forever…

A tense, dark, nasty little thriller, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find, grabs you from its arresting opening scene, twists your guts in a knot and never lets go for 90-odd minutes – naked, exhausted and blood-spattered, the impossibly fragile, doll-like Bolger wearily showers, rinsing gore from her hair. It’s hard to tell if it’s her blood or someone else’s spiralling down the drain, her traumatised 1000-yard stare letting us know it’s been a hell of a night before the film jumps back in time to follow her daily diet of petty humiliation that wouldn’t be out of place in a Ken Loach film – a lonely single mum battling against social isolation, societal prejudice and bureaucratic callousness to try to do the best for herself and her family. The world she inhabits and her situation is grounded in the harsh reality of life below the poverty line in Broken Britain. Even once she has a little money to spend, courtesy of Tito’s harebrained scheme, the misogynistic security guard at the supermarket assumes she’s on the game. Because why wouldn’t he? The stark truth is Sarah is trapped by her circumstances, director Pastoll balancing the grim, gritty authenticity of her situation with the film’s more lurid, exploitation storyline.

Bolger is frankly incredible in the role, her performance an essay in steely vulnerability, her metamorphosis from meek victim to confident avenging angel may be crowd pleasing but it’s solid and subtle, born of necessity, Sarah simply reacting to situations and doing her best to survive. It’s not until the film’s final act that Sarah carves out some measure of emancipation, abandoning her passivity, her helplessness and discovering her own sense of agency, taking the fight to the sharks preying on the vulnerable. She’s ably supported by the twitchy Simpson, a swaggering, none-too-bright bully, a legend in his own mind with delusions of grandeur headed for an early grave and Pastoll’s staging of the action is solid and effective particularly in the film’s gruelling body disposal set-piece, a claustrophobic, stomach churning exercise in gore. It’s a shame then that Bolger and Pastoll are less well-served by Hogg’s villain, a camp, sneering, overly garrulous cartoon that seems to have wandered in from a below par Martin McDonagh script. With his prissy pedantry Hogg’s gangster simply doesn’t ring true in a city where crime is still ruled by sectarian paramilitaries who wouldn’t suffer the likes of Leo.

Grim, gritty and breathlessly claustrophobic, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is a dark, intense urban crime thriller with an assured star-making turn from Sarah Bolger.

Movie Review: A Good Woman Is Hard To Find
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