If there was ever a modern, very Irish answer to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, it would be Bryan Stynes’ Coast Road. Part leisurely coastal showcase, part gloomy crime caper, nothing is quite as it seems on this particular bus ride.
Things start out as bright and sunny as they can be during a 1996 road trip around the Irish coast. On board are all kinds of folk from different walks of life, from the shady Dave Burke (Michael Linehan) to the overbearing Alice (Ann Dorgan) and the aggressive Shane (Paul J. Coffey). A laid-back yet palpably tense atmosphere gets its big shot of adrenaline when a passenger is found dead, with the bus chauffeur pulling a Poirot to try and solve the mysterious passing. Was it by chance, or was foul play involved? Between the passengers’s bizarre behavior and the countless rumors spreading around, something isn’t adding up.
Especially in terms of comedy, the screenplay by Stynes and co-writer Michael O’Dowd definitely hits some impressive high notes. It’s lighthearted early on, with a smooth transition in the film’s latter half to darker territory. Most importantly, it feels genuine during what is admittedly a dialogue-heavy affair. It lacks the spontaneous charm of other Irish indie movies like The Young Offenders, but compensates with a slew of colorful characters.
Stynes uses the bus murder as a vital catalyst to really bring out the personalities of his talented ensemble, with Linehan in particular giving a commanding performance. And while Linehan’s Burke is clearly the proverbial glue holding the group together, everyone gets the opportunity to shine in their respective roles. From Coffey to Dorgan, all the way to Paul Broderick’s bus driver, everybody stands out and injects a welcome level of quirk into their characters.
Technically speaking, the film doesn’t have much to write home about, save for the gorgeous drone shots (Rory Conlon) sprinkled in. Most of the camerawork (which is already confined to the bus interior) can feel repetitive and uninspired at times. And just like the cozy, lush countryside it’s set in, Coast Road tends to slip into stagnancy, too often settling into a mellow slog that doesn’t generate enough momentum to cross the finish line. Yet there’s a deviously unrefined and authentic edge to the film that’s very hard to ignore, with enough witty banter and dark humor for audiences to enjoy throughout. Brace for plot twists; they don’t stop coming!