A fractured narrative and some equally fractured characters make “Snap” an engrossing, bitter and even bittersweet journey into crime, remorse, dysfunction, abuse and nervy, audacious filmmaking. This often-scathing Irish meller has a real chance at breakthrough success, especially if proper attention is paid Aisling O’Sullivan’s performance as the film’s seemingly monstrous mother, a woman of enormous complexity afforded a fittingly complex portrayal. No U.S. distribution is set, though pic’s world premiere at the Tribeca fest could help decide its fortunes.
In its unorthodox structure, playwright Carmel Winter’s directing debut mirrors the deeply troubled souls at the heart of its story. A kind of triptych of misery, it begins with a documentary crew invading the home of Sandra (O’Sullivan, “Butcher Boy”), who has agreed to be interviewed despite her caustic tongue and what seems like a burning desire to antagonize the filmmakers. She is, it becomes abundantly clear, one angry woman: Sometime in the very recent past, her teenage son, Stephen (Stephen Moran), kidnapped a toddler and created a national panic/sensation. Both Stephen and Sandra have become public enemies, with Sandra having been all but crucified, made into the kind of media scapegoat tabloid readers love to loathe.
Beginning where it does — with the worst part of the story having happened already (or not) — Winters’ film keeps the viewer completely off balance and apprehensive. Sandra tells her bitter side of the story, full of spleen-venting and vulgarity, but is purposefully vague about the actual events, which will unspool when Winters flashes back to Stephen and his time with his young hostage.
The interview being conducted is morbidly fascinating, not just because of what it tells us about the larger story, or because Sandra’s bilious screed barely disguises the deep veins of dysfunction lying just beneath the surface. She’s also a woman giving a performance; she has a profound sense of the theatrical, and she’s addressing the camera in the way she’s seen it done before, in the very media she professes to hate.
Sandra is an echo chamber of the righteously indignant but only semi-articulate subjects one finds on daytime talkshows and screamfests. And while she may have been victimized by the media as regards her son’s crime, she also seems to have appropriated part of her personality from cheap TV. In managing to get all this across, O’Sullivan displays a certain genius.
So does Winters, as she moves seamlessly back and forth in time, from the interview to the homemovie-style footage that explains Sandra and Stephen’s life with Grandad (Pascal Scott), to the appallingly easy abduction Stephen pulls off in a public park. Snatching little Adam (Adam Duggan) while his father’s back is turned, Stephen keeps the baby at his grandfather’s empty house for days and days; one clueless neighbor even brings Adam back to Stephen after the child’s been left alone in the yard. We’re never quite sure where the film is going, although Winters provides some clues (and some red herrings). Parents, of course, will be holding their breath. They won’t be alone.
But again, one keeps coming back to Sandra, an appalling yet sympathetic creature who remains the key to the film, and O’Sullivan ventures into places she didn’t need to go but thankfully did. One night, at the counter of a fish ‘n’ chips shop, a ruined old man (Mick Lally) makes a lewd remark; Sandra takes him home, just like that,and proceeds to humiliate him in an amazing car wreck of a scene. O’Sullivan proves herself an actress with no fear, nor any concern that audiences might hate her.
Production values are quite fine, especially the shooting of d.p. Kate McCullough, whose palette balances the correct doses of dread and hope in a film with just the right amount of gothic visual architecture.