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Review: Murmur is beautifully bleak

Heather Young's debut feature explores an unchecked compulsion for connection.


Shan McDonald—a first-time actor—plays Donna, a woman aiming to fill the voids in her life with adopted animals. - SUBMITTED FILM STILL
  • Submitted film still
  • Shan McDonald—a first-time actor—plays Donna, a woman aiming to fill the voids in her life with adopted animals.

Written and directed by Dartmouth-based filmmaker Heather Young, (Dog Girl, Milk) Murmurwhich opened this year's FIN Atlantic International Film Festival—tells the beautifully bleak story of Donna (Shan McDonald), a kind-hearted woman whose loneliness is palpable.

She doesn’t appear to have anyone in her life except her daughter, who refuses to answer her calls or texts. Her coworkers at the local animal shelter are patient, but not kind.

They don’t fill the void left by an absence of companionship.


At home, she drinks to cope with her depression and to be able to sleep at night. Over time, she bonds with an older dog called Charlie and brings him home. At first, caring for Charlie—who, like Donna, has a heart murmur—as well as a litany of other health problems, seems to ease her pain. She begins taking better care of herself and stops drinking.

But, as much as Donna loves Charlie, it isn’t enough. She begins rescuing other animals from the shelter and buying them online, until her small apartment is over-run—her unchecked compulsion for connection ultimately causing her home and life to fall into further disarray.


Like Sisyphus, Donna struggles under the weight of her own illness and, unassisted, goes plummeting back to the bottom of the mountain.


Murmur will break your heart. It will also make you laugh, and yes, it will make you cry.  But mostly, it will make you angry, because Donna’s story is one of many.

Young gives audiences an unflinching look at how people fall through the cracks of our mental health system. It’s pretty dismal stuff, but rather that feeling defeated, the audience is given hope—because people like Young are out there ready to shine a light where it’s so badly needed.

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