In the head, un­der the skin

is a jar­ring jour­ney into the mind of a trou­bled woman, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

THE PHRASE “psy­cho­log­i­cal drama” is some­what overused in crit­i­cism. Af­ter all, what film, play or book is not driven by con­flict­ing ten­sions within its char­ac­ters’ psy­ches? Even the hol­low ci­phers that in­habit Dan Brown adap­ta­tions ex­hibit crude signs of in­ner strug­gle.

Snap, the first fea­ture from Carmel Win­ters, hith­erto an ac­claimed play­wright, is, how­ever, very much the real thing. This densely lay­ered, re­lent­lessly har­row­ing piece is not short on for­mal ex­per­i­men­ta­tion: dif­fer­ent film me­dia rub abra­sively against one an­other; con­trast­ing acting styles al­ter­nately lean to­wards


man­nered ar­ti­fi­cial­ity and un­com­fort­able, messy nat­u­ral­ism.

But, at its heart, Snap is a rig­or­ous at­tempt to dis­en­tan­gle the war­ring strains within its pro­tag­o­nist’s trou­bled brain. You couldn’t say it was fun to watch. But it un­ques­tion­ably sig­nals a real surge for­wards for Ir­ish cin­ema.

Our base camp in this com­plex jour­ney is the bland, soul­less flat be­long­ing to Sharon (Ais­ling O’Sullivan). A film crew has been in­vited into her home to con­sider the af­ter­math of an ob­scure trauma.

Ev­ery­thing about Sharon speaks of bit­ter­ness and ag­gres­sion. She scowls at the over­hang­ing boom mi­cro­phone. She snaps at the un­for­tu­nate di­rec­tor. Be­fore long, how­ever, she is open­ing up a dis­cus­sion about “the marks on the kid’s body”. She ex­plains that her son doesn’t smoke and – af­ter pulling out news­pa­per re­ports fea­tur­ing pho­to­graphs of a body – ex­plains that cer­tain vis­i­ble welts could be due to im­petigo, a con­ta­gious skin in­fec­tion.

Sharon ap­pears to have be­come some sort of lo­cal pariah. Hate mail falls through her let­ter­box. Pho­tog­ra­phers lurk in her back gar­den. In one of sev­eral bit­terly ironic out­bursts, she de­scribes her home as the “cra­dle of evil”.

This part of the pro­tag­o­nist’s story, pre­sented via the doc­u­men­tary film crew’s footage, is in­ter­cut with scenes show­ing Stephen (Stephen Mo­ran, ex­cel­lent), Sharon’s teenage son, in­ter­act­ing with a young boy. We see Stephen – al­ter­nately friendly and men­ac­ing – play­ing records on a gramo­phone and mak­ing faces out of the child’s food. Has the un­for­tu­nate tyke been kid­napped?

A third strand fea­tures home footage shot by Sharon’s fa­ther. Grad­u­ally, hints to­wards the char­ac­ters’ mo­ti­va­tions emerge.

Snap is not with­out its out­bursts of grim hu­mour. The late, great Mick Lally, mak­ing his last ap­pear­ance on film, turns up as a drunken layabout whom Sharon picks up in a chip shop for a bout of unlovely car­nal fum­bling. For the most part, how­ever, this is an im­pres­sively se­ri­ous at­tempt to ex­plain why or­di­nary peo­ple do ex­tra­or­di­nary things.

Not all of it works. Though the su­perb O’Sullivan de­liv­ers her lines with jar­ring sin­cer­ity, some of her speeches re­veal their ori­gins in a one-woman play. There is an overly the­atri­cal tone to the grander pro­nounce­ments and, at times, the voice feels like that of an in­ter­nal mono­logue dragged blink­ing into un­wel­come sun­light.

But these odd mis­judg­ments of tone don’t de­tract from the im­pres­sively cin­e­matic am­bi­ence of the piece. Much of the credit for the fact that the film looks so much like a film (not some­thing you could say of ev­ery do­mes­tic re­lease) should be put the way of cin­e­matog­ra­pher Kate McCul­lough.

Pre­vi­ously lauded for her work on His & Hers, McCul­lough man­ages the tricky feat of blend­ing a va­ri­ety of stocks and me­dia into an un­ex­pect­edly co­he­sive whole. The even­tual de­ci­sion to em­ploy split-screen could, in less adept hands, have come across like shameless gim­mickry.

A re­cent win­ner of the Dublin Film Crit­ics Cir­cle’s prize for best Ir­ish film at the Jame­son Dublin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, Snap feels like a real orig­i­nal. It is to the film’s credit that – be­ing so strange, you see – one can hardly imag­ine where the di­rec­tor will go next. Be brave and give it a go.

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