September 29, 2018
It is my firm belief that films are all about execution, not so much about script and/or writing. Film is after all an audio-visual medium, not a literary one. Watching Kissing Candice, that belief only got stronger. On paper this looked liked the umpteenth British (alas Irish) social drama, featuring a young girl growing up in a small town, dealing with a dire family situation and a boyfriend who hangs out with a local gang, all boys on their way to a criminal future. Cue a grim setting, functional styling and some dark, dramatic twists and turns. While these films definitely have their appeal when properly directed, it's a rather established niche that harbours few surprises.
Aoife McArdle wastes no time at all getting rid of these preconceptions. The first scene is exemplary for what will follow. A dominant and brooding soundtrack dictates the atmosphere, heavy greens and reds give the shots a mysterious vibe and the camera work is stark and precise, all signs of a director with a clear vision. From that very first scene it is obvious this isn't just a film that hopes to impress with a sad story, tormented characters and unfair drama, but is willing to go all out in order to deliver an emotional experience. And that it does.
Visually this is a pretty great film, with lush colors, vibrant and agile camera work and some slick editing to top things off. You'll find remnants of grittier and more functional styling here and there, but merely as a way to sketch the setting. It's the soundtrack that impressed me the most though. The film was scored by Jon Clarke, who created a strong selection of dark, brooding yet also dreamy and ethereal tracks. Supplemented with some electronic hits and classics (Jon Hopkins and Joey Beltram are in there) it makes for a stellar soundtrack that takes the film by its hands and leads the way.
So what's holding this back from becoming a true masterpiece? Despite all the effort McArdle put into the styling of the film, the drama and the characters never really came to life for me. It's not the actors, as they did a bang up job, it's not the emotional cues either, they definitely worked wonders. Maybe it's because I've seen this story one too many times before, maybe because there are too many different dramatic diversions, or just maybe the thriller elements near the end of the film were a bit unnecessary. Whatever it was, it wasn't something big or glaring, just a lingering feeling of "not quite".
The film was constantly on the edge of greatness, but ultimately never managed to cross that line. There were definitely scenes that I'd consider masterpiece material though, but that level was never maintained for a long enough time. Even so, Kissing Candice shows immense potential and I really hope McArdle will get the opportunity to work on a second film. If you're looking for a not so traditionally executed drama, you should definitely give one a try. It's not the most accessible film, but if you like your cinema bold and expressive, you're sure to find things to love here.