Playwright turned filmmaker Carmel Winters makes a confident and courageous debut with Snap, a scathing psychological drama about how a mother and her estranged teenage son cope with a family tragedy that becomes a media scandal.

Snap opens with middle-aged recovering alcoholic Sandra (Aisling O’Sullivan) inviting a documentary crew into her apartment to “get everything out in the open”. As she sits, smoking, in her scrupulously clean kitchen, Sandra looks into the camera and explains that three years previously her 15 year old son Stephen (Stephen Moran) kidnapped a toddler from a local park. He brought the child to an isolated house owned by his grandfather (Pascal Scott) and kept him there for five days. We don’t know why he did it and neither does Sandra, but she has her suspicions and so do we. As Sandra tries to explain what happened the story flashes back to the event itself, as the teenager sits with the toddler in the isolated house, feeding him junk food and watching old films on a battered television.

Even as Sandra attempts to make sense of her situation in a tumble of denials and confessions, Winters further fractures the story into dozens of fragments. An unseen hand pauses and rewinds the raw documentary footage, looking for unguarded moments. As Sandra explains to the camera, she has become a pariah, painted as the epitome of evil by sensationalist newspaper coverage. Even now, three years later, she is being plagued by nuisance phone calls and poison pen letters, which she burns without reading. She has kept the old newspaper clippings from the case, analysing them for mistakes and inaccuracies. She seems coldly indifferent, but she is angry and obsessed.

Between these uncomfortable scenes, an objective camera watches as Stephen wanders around the old house, watching images of the toddler’s parents on television, pleading for the child’s safe return. He also watches old 8mm home movies of himself as a young child with his grandfather, learning to ride a bicycle and blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. Winters then returns to Sandra as she bounces around her apartment, afraid to go out, passing the day with her brash best friend Chris (Eileen Walsh) and a deeply uncomfortable encounter with a dishevelled drunk she picks up in a local chip shop (the late Mick Lally, in his last role).

At first, Snap seems like an unsolvable jumble but Winters has a keen sense of the art of storytelling, slowly unravelling the puzzle to bring clarity to her jigsaw construction. Throughout, the director maintains a mood of imminent horror, a sense that the awful things that have been revealed are nothing when placed against what remains hidden.

The broken narrative is given a firm grounding in O’Sullivan’s intense, searing performance, monstrous and sympathetic at once. Winter’s script allows the actress to build her frustration into moments of full-throated fury, which O’Sullivan delivers with unerring force. As the damaged, emotionally inert Stephen, Moran remains a blank slate at all times, completely internalising the dire events boiling around him. The director’s background is in theatre, but her scenes never feel stage-bound, cutting between timelines and visual formats with consummate delicacy and framing the action for maximum emotional effect.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I thought Ashling O'Sullivan gave a good performance through out. The opening 15 minutes was good and created a very uneasy tension. Sandra's character was strong through.I do think the scene with Mick Lally could have been done differently and really didn't add anything to give us any greater insight on Sandra.The last 30 minutes of the film while at times was sinister, but overall the script was weak and didn't hold my attention. I would think it might have been better suited to theater.