Characterization in The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is not exactly ideal, but Martin McDonagh‘s film is spiky and probing and absorbing all the same. Here, on an isle off the coast of Ireland in the 1920s, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), chooses pragmatism over morality and good manners by suddenly dropping his close friendship with the “dull”—but usually inoffensive—Padraic (Colin Farrell). Padraic refuses to accept this and mopes a lot.

As with Madame Bovary, there is provincial boredom and disconnectedness. There is loneliness. The “banshees” of the isle, Inisherin, do not scream to herald the death of a family member, but they’re there. They’re represented by a disagreeable old woman called Mrs. McCormick. Death? Along with one literal human death, there is on the isle the death of hope. Colm tells the local priest he is still harboring despair. Indeed, clutching to himself a kind of pragmatism makes sense, but it is still a bad choice. Banshees is a painful tragicomedy from an artist who has come a long way since his limp play The Beauty Queen of Leenane.