Sodium Party (2013)
Even though it’s probably hard to believe, Sodium Party is an independent Irish feature that doesn’t deal in clichés. In spite of the fact it wears its influences on its sleeve, it may just stay with you afterwards.
Director/writer Michael McCudden’s strange, ethereal and very evocative feature, Sodium Party, juxtaposes Lynchian imagery against a lush Irish landscape to create an oddly moving, and quite fascinating, story of lost childhood, innocence, and the sometimes tenuous grasp we hold on reality.
Slaine Kelly stars as Claire, a young woman who, after witnessing the death of her father at his own hands as a child, retreated into a dream-world, where she played with her imaginary friend, Hannah (newcomer Caoilfhionn Hanton). At the mercy of her domineering mother, Helen (Melissa Nolan), for most of her life, Claire is completely at a loss to figure out her next move when she is left to fend for herself.
After moving to the city, enrolling in college, and hooking up with local charmer Danny (James Corscadden), Claire finally begins to enjoy her life and newfound freedom; the way she should’ve done years ago. It is then that Hannah decides to make a re-appearance, threatening to disrupt everything that Claire has tried so hard to establish, bringing back all of the bad memories she has spent so long burying.
Sodium Party is an odd little film, equal parts rom-com, coming-of-age shock tale and schizophrenic thriller; it seeks to tell a few different stories at once, and, for the most part, it succeeds in lulling the audience into a false sense of security before turning the narrative structure completely on its head, making everything that’s come before seem somehow both less and more important.
There are moments of genuine shock and horror, which utilise some pretty cool imagery, while the flashback sequences are shot in smooth greys, without McCudden feeling the need to resort to fuzz, to establish what’s happening. The colour palette is vast and expansive, giving everything a weird, spacey feeling. Though certain narrative elements are annoyingly clichéd, such as Claire’s willingness to, among other things, snort cocaine off a cistern with little prodding from Danny.
Corscadden is the bright spark of the piece; his otherwise one-dimensional troublemaker a mixture of anarchy, charm and a complete carelessness that is summed up best when Claire asks him dreamily if he ever wonders “what it’s all about” and he simply responds “no”. He carries the film, stealing each and every scene he’s in even when up against the wide-eyed Kelly, whose seemingly naïve Claire clearly understands a little more than she’s letting on.
Features such as this either live or die based on how well they communicate their own sense of madness and to its credit Sodium Party manages to show a lot without saying too much. Claire’s descent into insanity – or sanity, depending on one’s perspective – is handled very well, and the denouement manages not to tie up her story too neatly. It may leave many flummoxed, but will appeal to those who seek out this kind of film simply because it leaves them with lots to consider. It does encourage repeat viewings, and whether the narrative strands come together better the more it’s watched remains to be seen, but on first inspection, Sodium Party does appear to be more than the sum of its parts.
Shot in a little over two weeks, on a micro budget, the film looks and sounds a lot better than it probably should. There are moments of geographical inconsistencies that will bug residents of Dublin, or indeed Bray, which stands in for Ireland’s capital city on more than one occasion, but this just adds to the lack of structure which makes Sodium Party so enthralling. It feels like a much bigger film than it is, with McCudden’s own vision obvious throughout and, though his script falters at times, his direction cannot be faulted; lingering here, pulling back there, all while creating an otherworldly feel that suits the non-linear narrative.
Sodium Party may be slightly derivative – its inspirations are clear, particularly when one considers the works of Lynch, and his contemporaries – but it’s also quite inventive, in its own ways, and it is distinctly Irish, too, without feeling the need to spill a pint of Guinness all over itself to hammer the point home. The cinematography is gorgeous, presenting the country, and indeed the capital city, in a far more flattering light than usual, and the acting is very strong, across the board.
Whether it will become a classic remains to be seen, but as a new voice in Irish independent cinema, Sodium Party is admirably inventive, clever, and smart. It boasts a likeable cast of characters who, thankfully, don’t sound as though they just wandered off the set of Fair City and an underlying sense of dread that crawls under one’s skin.
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