Candice longs to escape the boredom of her seaside town, but when a boy she dreams about turns up in real life, she becomes involved with a dangerous local gang, in Northern Irish director Aoife McArdle’s feature debut.

This searing drama about youth at risk in smalltown Ireland marks the auspicious feature debut of director Aoife McArdle, a rising star who brings a lush, sensuous eye to even the darkest scenarios. Featuring an arresting performance from Ann Skelly, Kissing Candice is about a girl growing up in a very scary place — and the imaginings that might literally represent her only way out.

Seventeen-year-old Candice (Skelly) is a dreamer, and the dreams she has during her chronic seizures are the most lucid of all. In one, she meets a beautiful sleepwalking boy. It’s a dream she can’t shake off, especially given the nature of her reality. Candice longs to escape this gloomy seaside town still reeling from the disappearance of a local boy. “Things were a lot safer here during the Troubles,” Candice’s police detective father proclaims, referring to the violence regularly wreaked by a vicious gang. Candice’s world seems to brighten when she meets a man who perfectly resembles her sleepwalker — until she learns he is part of the very gang her father is determined to abolish.

Reviews

Leaden clouds looming over water, detritus-strewn abandoned houses, and the crimson glow of streetlamps: setting after setting in Kissing Candice is evocative. McArdle slips between Candice’s hallucinatory visions and the harsh actuality of her surroundings, exercising our empathy for this troubled girl on a quest for a safer place to dream.