Review: Kissing Candice

One of the highlights of last month's Belfast Film Festival was Kissing Candice, from Omagh-born film-maker Aoife McArdle. It was McArdle's feature debut but she's a director and screenwriter with plenty of experience and a well-developed eye, a confidence that shines through in the film, a mad, bad, trippy vision of libidinal(*) teenage energy.

Billed by McArdle at a post-show Q&A as a look at ‘Irish youth in crisis', Candice, from Venom Films and the Irish Film Board, is so much more interesting and vivid than the description, with its suggestion of bleeding-heart melancholic realism, hints at.

McArdle's award-nominated work in high-end advertisements and music videos — including U2's Every Breaking Wave from 2014's Songs of Innocence  —  has provided robust preparation for Candice's teenage genre drama, because for the confused, desperate people at the centre of teenage turmoil, the experience often feels like an epically stylish music video in which they themselves are the stars.

17 year-old Candice (Ann Skelly) is bored and listless, wasting away time in an anonymous, hostile estate in an Irish border town (could be North or South; the film is spare on details, adding to the liminal effect). A hormonal infused longing for something new and real manifests in deep-red romantic dreams about a lonely boy who will take her into adulthood. Candice has a sometimes shaky grasp on the reality around her, with her dreams, sudden seizures and haunting, pill-prompting hallucinations. Her epistemological ambivalence is channelled in the cinematography, which infuses ordinary locations with a shimmering, suggestive resonance, set to Jon Clarke's unsettling scoring and bursts of pop levity.

McArdle has an intuition for framing, colour and movement rare for first-time feature directors, and it turns the simplest on-page scenes into little acts of ballet, like a pack of thugs walking along a forest track, tipsy and high and full of themselves. One of the gang, Jacob (Ryan Lincoln), bears a resemblance to the boy in Candice's dream, and the two form a lusty attachment, bringing Candice into the orbit of the feral pack.

There is the inescapable pull of danger and dystopia. Candice's father (John Lynch) is an embattled police sergeant who complains that things are ‘worse than the Troubles', the implication is that at least when there were only two sides you knew where you stood, and there was some kind of official code, warped as it may have been. But the local lads, led by Conall Keating (from TV's Striking Out) are something else, nursing a darker and more spontaneous kind of evil. The malevolence of Ryan McParland (Good Vibrations and Bad Day For The Cut) is especially compelling.

The story bears down towards its inevitable violence with stylish, apocalyptic abandon, throwing up images of small-town desolation and absence. A circle of hot sunlight in a dreary wide shot; an empty church; a house on fire. Everyone's free, everyone's doomed. The intensity escalates, with horror, noir and thriller inspirations, building to a terrific, thrilling final sequence. Kissing Candice is a phantasmagoric joyride from an Irish film-maker to watch, and deserves to find a supportive distributor.

By Conor Smyth

*libidinal: of or relating to the libido. I googled it for you/me, cause I'd no idea what it meant... Ed.

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