Original title: Y Llyfrgell
D: Euros Lyn / 87m
Cast: Catrin Stewart, Dyfan Dwyfor, Ryland Teifi, Sharon Morgan, Carwyn Glyn
Twins Ana and Nan (Stewart) both work in the archive section of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Their mother, Elena (Morgan), is a famous author who has raised her daughters by herself. Ana is the creative, more outgoing twin, while Nan is the dependable, more introverted one. Their lives are orderly, well-managed and maintained, and their work appears to be all they have outside of their relationship with their mother. But all that changes when Elena commits suicide by jumping from a second story window at their home. With Ana and Nan both present in her dying moments, Elena says that “it was Eben”.
Eben (Teifi) was once a student of Elena’s who in the time since her death, has been granted access to her papers, and is intending to write her biography. The papers are kept at the National Library, in a vault room below ground. Late one afternoon he arrives at the Library to begin work on the biography. He’s shown in by security guard Dan (Dwyfor). Soon the Library closes, and once all the other visitors have left, Ana and Nan begin to carry out a plan they’ve hatched to kill Eben for causing the death of their mother.
Along with Dan, there’s another guard called Glyn (Glyn). The twins offer them both coffee laced with crushed sleeping tablets. Glyn succumbs, but Dan rejects the offer. Ana tempts him with alcohol (also laced with crushed sleeping tablets) but he only drinks enough to pass out for a short while. While both men are “out of action”, the twins confront Eben in the vault room. They pull guns on him, tie his hands together, put a noose around his neck, and make him stand on a chair. But as they pull away the chair, Dan – who has woken up and has seen what’s happening on a security monitor – cuts the power to the building. The lights go out, there’s a crash followed by a gunshot, and in the moments that follow, both Ana and Nan become aware that their plan for revenge isn’t going to go as well as they’d planned…
The Library Suicides is a bit of a rarity. It’s a Welsh thriller where the entire cast speak Welsh throughout (there’s the odd English phrase or word, but it still leaves the cast speaking Welsh for ninety-nine percent of the running time), and it’s largely set in the actual National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. There’s also something of a mystery to be solved, as the circumstances surrounding Elena’s death aren’t as clear-cut as they seem, and in particular, Eben’s involvement – if any – in what happened that day. As Ana and Nan put their plan into action, Eben’s behaviour, allied with some unexpected interventions by Dan, ensure that Ana and Nan have to improvise quite a bit, and in doing so, learn more about their mother than they suspected could be true.
Adapted from the novel by Fflur Dafydd (who also provides the screenplay), The Library Suicides is a smart, intriguing psychological thriller that makes good use of its unique location – it’s like a maze in there – and manages to keep the viewer guessing for most of its relatively short running time before it conforms to thriller conventions and reveals all. Before then, though, it throws in a few deft twists and turns, and keeps its focus firmly on Ana and Nan as they try to contain the fallout from Dan’s cutting off the power, and also contain their own feelings as they both learn about and reveal things about their mother.
In the hands of experienced director Euros Lyn – better known for his TV work on shows such as Daredevil, Broadchurch and Doctor Who – The Library Suicides is a dour but imaginative thriller that features a terrific dual performance from Stewart (who is herself a twin in real life), an ominous score courtesy of Dru Masters, and sterling cinematography from Dan Stafford Clark that captures the chilly atmosphere of the Library and the claustrophobic nature of the material as the characters become more and more trapped by the decisions they’re forced to make. One of the main reasons for how good the movie is lies at the door of Stewart, who at first makes it very difficult for the viewer to tell Ana from Nan and vice versa, but as the movie progresses, slowly but surely, she expertly defines both twins’ individual psychology, and in the process, gives two awards-worthy performances.
The mystery surrounding Elena’s death, and the meaning behind the phrase, “it was Eben”, is slowly but surely revealed as the movie progresses, and the deep, dark secret lurking behind it all (while it will be obvious to some viewers) is handled with care throughout. Lyn resists the temptation to make more out of it than there is, making it all more low-key than a lot of other movies would feel comfortable with. By doing so, Lyn ensures the viewer is more attentive and more invested than in a lot of other, similar thrillers out there, and he sprinkles some misdirection here and there to keep audiences on their toes.
This being a modern day thriller, there’s blood to be spilled, and though the physical demands of the production are entirely evident on the screen, it’s often the movie’s subtext that has the advantage of making more of an impact as the movie progresses. The movie is as much about redacted memory and the suppression of feelings than it is about revenge for an undisclosed crime, and Dafydd’s script keeps sight of all this even when said blood is being spilled. In particular it’s what the twins remember that carries emotional and dramatic weight, and again, both Lyn and Stewart are more than up to the challenge of revealing just enough to keep viewers enthralled and wanting to see what happens next. In the end it’s only a last-minute reveal that proves unnecessary, and while it may be clever in the context of what’s gone before, it does the narrative no favours and seems tacked on for effect – which it doesn’t need to do.
Rating: 8/10 – deliberately paced, and with the look and feel of a “Nordic noir”, The Library Suicides is a movie that gives its characters solid reasons for what they do, and never short changes them or the audience as a result; Stewart’s performances are compelling, and Lyn’s direction expertly juggles the visual demands of those performances, while also negotiating the spaces within the National Library with vigour and aplomb, making this one night shift that’s hard to forget.