Estranged brothers Jack (writer and director Macken) and Tom (Hopper) are reunited following their father’s unexpected death. Unable to sell the family home due to accrued debts their awkward co-existence is further complicated by the discovery of a young woman’s body. As events become increasingly strange they are forced to confront their family’s bleak history.
Taking inspiration in part from John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, Macken tackles some of the same topics, and for the most part, does so with a delicate and skilful touch. Tom and Jack are polar opposite in character, and share little except a familial connection. And while they both struggle similarly through life, they each search for something without ever knowing what. The journey they reluctantly embark upon together serves only to distance them from that end rather than provide any sight of redemption.
The central performances are impressive, offering a perfect balance between sympathetic understanding and fearful disgust at the brother’s actions. Little explanation is provided as to what determined their characters, with shared childhood misery leading to two fundamentally different personalities. If some understanding latterly exists between the pair, it is as transient as it is misguided, but Macken and Hopper inhabit their roles with conviction. Supporting roles are less notable, with Jack Reynor offering little as a begrudged barman, but these weaknesses are forgivable as Leopard only really concerns itself with the brothers.
What is a problem, though, is the direction the story takes. There are no twists here as such, but the revelations when they arrive are inconsistent and unbalanced. Teasing horror elements here, while plunging into gritty drama there, Leopard comes across as slightly confused while limping along somewhat in the final third. Previously important plotlines become secondary or are simply forgotten, as the story progresses and though you’ll hope for a resolution, you begin to sense it will never arrive. Ambiguity is brave and admirable, but finding the right level is difficult and too much can lead to frustration.
There is much to like in Leopard, and Macken certainly proves himself to be a filmmaker to watch. This is a film worth seeking out, and one that may shock and surprise, but it is more an example of what could be achieved rather than what has.
LEOPARD / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: EOION MACKEN / STARRING: TOM HOPPER, JACK REYNOR, EOIN MACKEN, REBECCA NIGHT / RELEASE DATE: TBC