It seems oddly appropriate that director Aoife McArdle began her career making music videos and commercials, as her debut feature film Kissing Candice feels like the product of a creator long accustomed to making every single shot, edit, and angle as compact and creatively dense as possible. Freed from the constraints of shorter formats, McArdle rushes around her 102-minute runtime with all the curious abandon of a goldfish moved from a small bowl to a massive aquarium. Overstuffed with ideas, Kissing Candice feels like three different movies from three different genres. The first borrows from British social realism in its portrait of an economically stagnant community in Northern Ireland and the aimless, bored people populating it. The adults wile away in dead-end jobs and the children and teenagers medicate their ennui with drugs and sex. At no point do any of them seem to enjoy these vices: they’re just cheap ways to pass the time. The second is a cruel crime thriller involving a missing child and a vengeful gang of teenage miscreants who terrorize the town. And the third is a Lynchian phantasm ripped from the mind of Candice (Ann Skelly), an epileptic Irish schoolgirl who may or may not slip into clairvoyant visions during seizures. The film is too ambitious to make all these disparate parts congeal together into a cohesive whole. But for the brief moments where it succeeds, Kissing Candice is bold and hypnotic.
This isn’t the type of film where explicitly detailing the plot does much good in communicating what it’s about—it’s more of an extended mood piece than a strict narrative. McArdle gets more mileage from passages of intense, lyrical imagery, key among them a preoccupation with brooding establishing shots of the apocalyptically foreboding Irish countryside as metaphor for looming adulthood. But the film does focus primarily on Candice and the upheaval of her life when one of the reoccurring figures in her epileptic visions (and sexual fantasies) appears one day in the real world after suffering a catastrophic seizure when a gang assaults her. His name is Jacob (Ryan Lincoln), and he seems at once oddly connected with and apart from the local gang of teenagers. What’s his connection to them and the missing boy whose disappearance has so rocked the town? More importantly, where did he come from? Did Candice summon him from the ether?
Whenever McArdle tries to answer these questions the film falls apart. It’s when she dwells on the impossibilities of these mysteries and how said mysteries reinvigorate Candice’s tired life that the whole thing comes into focus. As Michelangelo Antonioni demonstrated in his masterpiece Blow-Up (1966)—another movie about an emotionally numb European who gains new lease on life after stumbling across a great mystery—sometimes the answers aren’t important. In fact, they can screw the whole thing up. Better to leave them alone.