Stephen Porzio puckers up at the 2018 Audi Dublin International Film Festival for Aoife McArdle’s Kissing Candice.
I recently criticised The Lodgers for being an Irish genre movie that failed to capitalise on the country’s rich history. For a gothic horror set in the 1920s, it felt uninterested in engaging with Ireland’s Battle for Independence or Civil War, events which had they been a greater part of the story would have made it richer. Thankfully, Kissing Candice – a graphic novel-esque tale of cops and robbers and young lovers caught in the crossfire set in Northern Ireland – does a better job at this. The debut from writer-director Aoife McArdle (U2’s Every Breaking Wave music video) takes the time to acknowledge The Troubles and the impact the era had on the generation that followed.
An incredibly expressive Ann Skelly (Red Rock, Rebellion) stars as Candice, a 17-year-old living in a one-horse-town with her troubled policeman father, Donal (The Fall’s John Lynch), and disconnected mother, Debbie (Lydia McGuinness, who had a great role in another ADIFF premiere, The Delinquent Season). Both dealing with her blossoming sexuality and severe seizures, Candice retreats into dreams. While dreaming, she has visions of man who she does not know but feels inexplicably drawn to.
Things get complicated, however, when Candice meets literally the man from her dreams, Jacob (Ryan Lincoln), a former member of a ruthless local gang who Donal wants to put behind bars. Having turned on his partners in crime, the criminals want revenge – targeting Candice in the process.
With its neo-noir aesthetic, its sensorial depiction of female sexual desire and its hallucinatory representation of the journey from teen to adult, Kissing Candice is part Streets of Fire, part Raw and part Donnie Darko. However, what keeps the movie feeling fresh and exciting, as opposed to derivative, is Aoife McArdle’s direction. Coming from a music video background, she emphasises mood and visuals over the story. Kissing Candice could be viewed without audio, and audiences would still be transfixed by its imagery; a burning toy house in the middle of a road, a dream in which a man walks stoically as his arm is on fire, a party-goer’s creepy mask at a neon-drenched nightmare rave.
While the glossy music video aesthetic for the most part works to the film’s favour, occasionally Kissing Candice feel more like long-form accompaniment to Jon Clarke’s pulsating score. This is particularly noticeable in the movie’s oblique denouement which would work better in an experimental music promo than a narrative feature.
Still, McArdle deserves credit for doing something revelatory. She manages to convey the stark brutal reality of living in some parts of Ireland but in a way which looks as incredible as a Michael Mann joint. Also, as mentioned in the first paragraph, McArdle seems to be making a commentary on the lasting impact on The Troubles. The murderous gangs that populate Kissing Candice, Donal remarks, are the sons of those who fought in the conflict. Perhaps, the violence is not quite over yet.
Kissing Candice screened on Friday, 2nd March 2018 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).