On the face of it, On the Edge sounds like the kind of movie you badly want to avoid: three suicidal Irish teenagers meet and bond in the mental home where they are undergoing treatment. It looks like the kind of thing that should have been made for TV, and should be on either early on a Saturday afternoon, when one has better things to do, or late on a week night when one is likely to be long asleep.
Indeed, On the Edge has something of the TV movie about it, but perhaps that is just a result of its tiny budget. In all other respects, it is a lovely, touching film that quietly pulls you into the lives and struggles of its protagonists. You find yourself caring about them and their fates.
Jonathan (Cillian Murphy) is a 19-year-old rebel who has recently lost his father; his mother had died some years previously. He hides his pain under reckless exuberance and cutting humour, but the pain bursts out and his self-endangering — and criminal — behaviour leads to near-tragedy. He is given the option of prison or a stint in a psychiatric hospital. He picks the latter; a good way to spend Christmas, he muses sardonically.
Once inside, he encounters the resident shrink (a beautifully underplayed performance from Stephen Rea), as well as two equally tortured souls, Toby (Jonathan Jackson) and Rachel (Tricia Vessey). With Toby, Jonathan develops a rebellious rapport that involves, inevitably, breaking out of the hospital for nights on the town; with Rachel, there is the possibility of some kind of romance.
More than that, there is not much to say about the plot of On the Edge without giving it all away. This is a movie built on performances, and those of its youthful leads are as straightforward as they are affecting. There is perhaps an over-reliance on the musical soundtrack to give the viewer emotional clues, but there is none of the insistent massaging of feelings one is usually subjected to.
On the Edge is a slight movie, and its pace is often no more energetic than that of a mental patient going for an amble about the grounds, but it is touching in the best possible way.