Forgive the clickbait-y title but there will be those who see the poster or trailer for Extra Ordinary and think it’s not up their alley because it looks like a fussy indie drama when, really, this is the movie for which we’ve all been yearning since Taika made vampires funny all those years ago. Forget about that deadly serious Ghostbusters sequel featuring the Stranger Things kid and an anemic Paul Rudd that only MRAs are really clamoring for, because this nifty little Irish horror-comedy makes bustin’ ghosts not only fun but funny again, too.
Our heroine is the charmingly dweeby Rose (Irish comedian Maeve Higgins, who actually lives Stateside these days — you may have come across her viral New York Times op-ed), a driving instructor and retired paranormal investigator who blames herself for the death of her father during one of the duo’s jobs involving a haunted pothole and a lost dog (that description doesn’t even do the moment justice, trust me). We meet her Da, Vincent (Risteárd Cooper, who has a brilliant voice for narration) via some dodgy VHS tapes of his show, which have a major Garth Marenghi vibe and aimed to prove the existence of ghosts (they like to inhabit cheese, FYI).
Rose is chugging along in her daily life, not quite happy but not completely miserable either, when she’s contacted by a distraught single father named Martin Martin (famed Irish actor Barry Ward, having an absolute blast out of his comfort zone) whose teenage daughter, Sarah (Emma Coleman, impressive in her debut feature) is floating lifelessly in her room thanks to the misdeeds of a local celebrity named Christian Winter (played by Will Forte in a big fake wig and mustache). Also, his dead wife is haunting the family home, forbidding him from wearing certain clothes and ensuring he knows the dog has worms via messages encrypted on pieces of toast.
It’s a lot of plot, no doubt about it, and although Extra Ordinary has difficulty juggling all of these balls, which ghosts also like to inhabit by the way (Rose’s sister is pregnant, too, and about to pop any second — she’s also very involved in Rose’s non-existent dating life), it’s so much fun that it hardly matters how little sense the thing makes. Higgins, a veteran of Irish television, is an absolute joy in her first leading role, injecting each line with her deadpan, self-deprecating Corkonian wit whether it’s telling a driving student she has no interest in him or demanding Martin heat up a pizza before they head out on their next job.
Much of the action revolves around the two becoming a team of sorts as they gather several jars of ectoplasm in order to save Sarah from Christian’s clutches. This leads to several side-splittingly funny interactions with terrified locals, one of whom has a ghost in her green recycling bin (“I’ll put stew in the green bin if I like!” she shouts at the pesky entity), and some surprisingly disgusting practical FX. The ectoplasm itself is stomach-churningly gross, but there are several instances of impressively crunchy gore in a film that’s otherwise very light in tone.
Higgins and Ward have a lovely rapport, even if their romance feels slightly forced. She’s a long way from Naked Camera, the comedian’s breakout role that forced her to play second fiddle to the insufferable PJ Gallagher (he still somehow has a career over here but you don’t need to know about him, so stay away from Google), while the man who’ll always be known as the Jimmy in Jimmy’s Hall (it’s like an Irish Footloose, except much more somber and also terrible) gets an opportunity to show off his comedic chops. Ward is hugely entertaining here, especially given how much he has to contend with. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say Martin has to be possessed to get the ectoplasm, leading to much hilarity.
Forte, meanwhile, is reliably excellent. His character, a one hit wonder with a song called “Christian Woman” that bears more than a passing resemblance to Chris de Burgh’s “A Spaceman Came Travelling” (ask your mother), is based on several celebs who fled to Ireland’s tax haven in the eighties and nineties. Forte steals every scene he’s in as the satanic loser so desperate to hit big again he’s willing to kill local teenagers to do it. Claudia O’Doherty, meanwhile, is a hoot as his long-suffering wife (watch how she tortures a Chinese deliveryman, or points out Christian’s biggest fear is ducks).
But this is Higgins’ show and she’s so fantastic I wish she were my driving instructor IRL. Rose could easily be a pathetic sad sack, but Higgins is too savvy of a performer to make her the butt of every joke. Even when a mean woman called Boring Noreen (Derry Girls star Siobhan McSweeney, a Cork native herself) suggests she’s gained weight, Rose takes it as a compliment. She’s not ashamed of her voracious appetite and her sister isn’t suggesting Rose needs to change herself to get a man, only that she needs to put herself out there more so someone can realize how great she is.
Extra Ordinary is loaded with nods only Irish people will truly get, like a Sherry Fitzgerald sign in the front garden of Christian’s castle, an interview he does with Nationwide, a rendition of “The Name of the Game,” a favorite at Irish sports events, sung about Satan, a cameo from another Derry Girls alum in the form of Jamie Beamish’s local politician, and Rose’s deceased cat whose name was Mary Black. These references elevate the film to a whole other level of hilarity but even without them, this is an especially funny movie with a remarkable joke hit rate. Consider Rose’s way of saying “sexually active” is “giddy,” for example — that’s a funny line, even written down here, but imagining it in that amazing Cork accent makes it even better.
If this was just a funny movie, it’d be fine, but Extra Ordinary is well made too. Rose evokes the iconic shot from The Exorcist in front of Martin’s house before making a hilarious reference to the movie itself, while the paranormal stuff is dynamically conceived and shot. A late-night car chase, so slow it becomes ludicrous, is also well done and the landscape has never looked prettier or more quaint. This is the debut feature of writer-directors, and longtime collaborators, Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern from Irish production company D.A.D.D.Y, who put the idea to Higgins almost ten years ago (“Wouldn’t it be a gas if you were kind of a lonely driving instructor and you could talk to ghosts?” they reportedly asked her). All that time spent perfecting the material really stands to them.
Extra Ordinary may be trying to do a few too many things at once, but it’s a hugely impressive debut, a wonderful showcase for the talents of Maeve Higgins and several other Irish actors, boasts yet another star turn for Will Forte, while also being a hilariously funny and suitably disgusting supernatural comedy so, from my perspective, over-stuffing suits this movie’s energy down to the ground. A must-see, whether you’d prefer that haunted gravel was referred to as haunted pebbles or not.
WICKED RATING: 9/10
Director(s): Enda Loughman, Mike Ahern
Writer(s): Enda Loughman, Mike Ahern, Demian Fox, Maeve Higgins
Stars: Maeve Higgins, Will Forte, Barry Ward, Claudia O’Doherty
Release date: March 6, 2020
Studio/Production Company: Cranked Up Films
Run Time: 94 minutes