SXSW Film Review – Snap
Mental illness is a challenging topic to address in film. A lot of times it comes off feeling corny and over the top. Rather than being a part of what a character has to deal with, it becomes who they are, or ends up being treated as punchline for jokes or feeling much more like a cliché than an actual ailment. So it is particularly engaging when you see it done well. Snap is an extreme example, but it does a good job of showing that experiences in life can have effects that continue to ripple on long after they seem to be over.
The film follows Jim (Jake Hoffman), a dub-step musician dealing with some psychological problems, who meets an idealist in Wendy (Nikki Reed), who believes she can help him. All the while, Jim is being constantly harassed by his “friend” Jake (Thomas Dekker), who might be closer to pushing him to the breaking point than to helping him out with his advice.
Don’t let the dub-step sub-plot worry you—I can completely relate, I’m totally ignorant about it. That isn’t to say that if you are a fan of dub-step it won’t enrich the experience, but the film is still engaging if you aren’t engrossed in it. Describing the film based upon its use of dub-step is a bit misleading; the best description of it is as a thriller. What seems like it could be a classic romance is mashed with psychological tension, sort of like When Harry Met Sally meets Fatal Attraction.
My main draw to the movie was largely based on the acting talent within it. I have long found Nikki Reed to be an intriguing commodity. I first became aware of her from her fantastic breakthrough performance in Thirteen. Since then, she gained a lot of fame, but has also been toiling away in populist fare like the Twilight series. Much like with her costar in Thirteen, Evan Rachel Wood, I’ve wondered if we would ever get to see the person live up to the potential. It’s great to see her in a film like this, since it plays to a strength she first displayed in Thirteen: an earnestness in her characters that goes beyond acting.
Paired with her in Jake Hoffman is someone who seems to be a relatively fresh face, but has actually been around the world of film for decades. Hoffman is amazing as Jim, in what is probably one of the better portrayals of mental illness since his father helped set the standard in Rain Man. Not only was I unaware that Dustin Hoffman had a son, but also that his son was an actor as well. Jake’s willingness to so thoroughly inhabit his character’s neuroses makes you wonder where the character ends and he begins. He has the challenge of being both empathetic and creepy at the same time, which is a tough balance to keep while having your main character be likeable. The film is built upon the chemistry between Hoffman and Reed, or intentional lack thereof. It is impressive to see, as it is probably more challenging for two immensely talented actors to seem to achieve an absence of chemistry than it is for them to have it.
Snap isn’t really anything too far outside of the box. The plot is largely predictable, but it is the nuance that gives the film its teeth. It’s nice to see a film where what seems to be the big twist is essentially revealed in the first ten minutes. This isn’t a movie that is meant to surprise you, but it does an excellent job of building to a boil, much like the metaphor of a frog in a pot of water. Additionally, it capitalizes on the basic notion of horror being something familiar turning into something unrecognizable, and does the best job of working with an otherwise mundane item I’ve seen this side of a Coen brothers movie. Directors Victor Teran and Yousseff Delara play successfully with traditional movie conventions, like having your central character be the hero. Instead of keeping the characters in a world of black and white, all of them are flawed and left to muddle around in a world of grey.
A combination of a clever idea with some solid acting is a pretty solid formula for success. It is good to see everyone involved here stretching their talents to meet the challenge. Though it might have some of that Hollywood sheen on it, this is truly an indie film at heart, and showcases what indie films can do.
Final Grade: B+