Candice (Skelly, Red Rock) is a seventeen-year-old already bored with her sleepy border town. The daughter of a local sergeant (Lynch), who is obsessed with finding a missing local boy, Candice hits the booze as hard as she can, which doesn’t do her epilepsy any favours. When she’s saved by Jacob (Lincoln) from a kidnap and possible rape by a local gang, led by Dermot (Conall Keating) and Conor (McParland), the same gang her father believes knows something about the missing boy, Candice and her saviour embark on a tentative romance. However, his involvement with the gang, and Candice’s increasing mental instability, play havoc with the young lovers…
An eye-catching debut from Aoife McArdle, Kissing Candice is a strange and unsettling experience. Viewed for the most part from the point of view of Candice, there’s a fragmented elliptical approach to the story and visuals. McArdle, to heighten the discombobulating vibe, keeps the camera as close as possible to Candice’s face throughout with events happening out of focus around her. The story really burrows into her mindset, with blurred visuals and sudden dropped audio as Candice succumbs to visual and aural hallucinations. The soundtrack is a belter too.
The scenes are short. Real short. In fact at times they are only snatches of moments that are over before one can understand their purpose. One short scene shows girls enjoy a sneaky smoke in the changing rooms: as the camera floats past them we see one girl’s hair catch fire from the cigarette… but the camera keeps moving. Did this happen? McArdle hopes one will take a step back to see the tapestry that’s been weaved. This is a confident debut - McArdle is definitely a name for the future.
Where the film falls down is when it adopts a more linear and clear narrative in the third act. Gone is the dreamy atmosphere and in its place is a rather ordinary chase sequence. And it’s not clear why scenes Candice doesn’t experience (the scenes with the gang) are given the same dreamy, fragmented vibe. The subplot involving the disappearance of the boy, and Lynch’s preoccupation with finding him, gets lost along the way before making a late comeback.
But the strong performances see one over the wobbly moments. Skelly’s haunted, distressed eyes do more than the dialogue she’s given in a memorable debut performance, while the itchy Keating and the unhinged McParland deliver when needed as the dangerous gang members.