The Movie Waffler New Release Review - KISSING CANDICE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - KISSING CANDICE

kissing candice review
A teenager falls for a gang member who may have played a role in the disappearance of a young boy.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Aoife McArdle

Starring: Ann Skelly, Ryan Lincoln, Conall Keating, Ryan McParland, Caitriona Ennis

kissing candice poster

"It doesn't look like an Irish film," was once the highest compliment a viewer could pay to an Irish film. For most of its sparse history, the Irish film industry delivered movies that were usually well acted, sometimes well written, but generally as visually appealing as a soap opera. Irish filmmakers didn't seem capable of making movies that were...well, cinematic.

Thankfully, that's beginning to change, with a new wave of young Irish auteurs who understand that cinema is first and foremost about images, and many of the top cinematographers working in Hollywood hail from both sides of the Irish border - Robbie Ryan (Slow West; American Honey) and Seamus McGarvey (The Avengers; Nocturnal Animals) the two most notable examples. As such, "It doesn't look like an Irish film" is no longer the backhanded compliment it once was, but Kissing Candice might be the first Irish production I've accused of favouring style over substance.

kissing candice

The debut feature of acclaimed commercials and music promo director Aoife McArdle presents a vision of Ireland that draws heavily on the dreamy yet deranged Americana of David Lynch and films like Tim Hunter's River's Edge and Ryan Gosling's unfairly maligned directorial debut Lost River. It's set in a seaside town just below the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic, but save for a reference to 'the Troubles' and small giveaways like a green post box, its setting is largely ambiguous.

17-year-old Candice (Ann Skelly) longs to escape the drudgery and darkness of her small town existence, which revolves around drinking, attending school and dreaming of boys. Suffering the latest of her regular epileptic seizures, Candice imagines herself making out in a car with a sleepwalking older boy (Ryan Lincoln) who then combusts into flames.

kissing candice

Candice can't shake the image of this mysterious stranger until a gang of local thugs attempts to abduct her, only for the boy in her dreams to appear in real life and intervene when she suffers yet another seizure. Her dream man turns out to be Jacob, a member of the violent gang that has been terrorising the town, and who are suspected of being involved in the disappearance of a young local boy, a case Candice's police detective father obsesses over.

As Candice, the only character in McArdle's film who comes off as three dimensional, Skelly is a revelation. Both in physical appearance and in her character's awkward sexual awakening, she resembles a hybrid of the young women played by Saoirse Ronan and Garance Marillier in Lady Bird and Raw respectively. The film is at its strongest when Candice is at the centre of its gaze, as the supporting characters are a motley collection of one-dimensional stereotypes, ranging from Jacob's strong, silent, James Dean wannabe to the gang members, who come off as a polyester imitation of Dennis Hopper's much scarier posse from Lynch's Blue Velvet.

kissing candice

The influence of Lynch is writ large in McArdle's feature debut, and while the director and her cinematographer Steve Annis do a convincing job of aping his dreamlike aesthetic, the addition of rockabilly and bossa nova tunes on the soundtrack, along with extreme close-ups of insects, mean Kissing Candice too often walks a thin line between homage and parody.

Kissing Candice's ambivalence to its geographical setting might work in its favour for an international audience, but those of us from Ireland will find ourselves scratching our heads at the inconsistency of accents and regional oversights, none more so than the very British representation of the Halloween season. McArdle hails from north of the border, in Belfast, where Halloween is merely an excuse for a fancy dress party, unlike down south where it's a festival that lurks in the background for weeks leading up to October 31st. Kissing Candice climaxes at a Halloween party, yet nothing else in the film's production design suggests it takes place on Samhain - where are the masked trick or treating children, the pumpkins in windows, the decorations on the walls of Candice's school? Less aping of Americana and more attention to the details of its cultural setting might have been advised.

Kissing Candice is in UK/ROI cinemas June 22nd.