Friday 21 June 2024

Snapshot (1979)

Snapshot is a 1979 Australian thriller which is a lot more interesting than its reputation would suggest. The surprises here are not the plot twists but the way in which the characters just don’t behave quite like conventional thriller characters.

The opening sequence is rather shocking, with a horrific fire and an hysterical woman. Most of the movie is an extended flashback.

This is a difficult movie to discuss because it has quite a few plot twists and to offer a hint that may prove to be a spoiler for one twist would then spoil the other twists as well, so I’m going to be very vague about the plot.

Angela (Sigrid Thornton) works in a hairdressing salon and she’s always broke. She lives with her mother and her kid sister and the atmosphere at home is very uneasy and very unhealthy.

Her friend Madeline (Chajntal Contouri) a rich successful model. She is trying to persuade Angela to give modelling a try. Angela eventually agrees and is then shocked when her first very well-paid modelling job for an advertising agency requires her to be photographed topless. She is persuaded to do the job and she becomes a minor sensation. She appears to have a glittering modelling career in front of her.

This is where the movie springs its first surprise. We assume this will be yet another movie in which a naïve girl tries to break into modelling and is drawn into a world of sex and debauchery and decadence. But that doesn’t happen. The advertising shots are tasteful and at no time is she pressured into doing girlie magazine stuff or sex movies or anything like that. The photographer who does the shoot is definitely an eccentric but he’s totally harmless. He doesn’t try to exploit or manipulate her.

Angela’s real problem is that someone is stalking her. She’s pretty sure she knows who it is and she’s not overly worried. She think it’s an ex-boyfriend but while he’s persistent and annoying she doesn’t think he would ever try to hurt her. The audience however has seen the opening scene of the movie so we’re more worried than she is.

Angela has another problem to deal with. Madeline wants to put their friendship on a different, shall we say more intimate, level. She wants them to be more than just good friends. Angela isn’t that way inclined.

The stalking becomes a bit scarier. Angela finally figures out that maybe she’s in real trouble but she may be working on a false assumption and may end up putting herself in worse danger.

Eventually we get back to that opening scene.

I think that what a lot of people failed to notice about Snapshot is just how weird it is. People saw it as being a very conventional by-the-numbers thriller, but it’s actually in its own low-key way quite unconventional. It plays around with some of the conventions of the genre. It certainly plays around with the conventions of the psycho killer genre. It sets up straightforward thriller situations but they play out in odd unexpected ways. The problem perhaps is that it’s a movie that needs to be seen a second time to be fully appreciated. On a repeat viewing you notice how often it appears to conform to genre conventions but in subtle ways it doesn’t do so.

The stalker driving a Mr Whippy ice cream van is a wonderful touch. The secret room with all the photos of Angela is an idea that had been used before but the fact that every single square inch of the room, including the floor, is covered by the photos and the fact that they’re all exactly the same photo repeated endlessly makes it striking and especially creepy, and the movie’s major visual set-piece takes place in this room.

Producer Antony I. Ginnane had a big international hit with Patrick in 1978 and another with Thirst in 1979. Snapshot came in between those two films and while it was reasonably successful it wasn’t quite the major hit that had been hoped for. The reasons for this are pretty clear. Snapshot is a bit too low-key for its own good. Compared to European thrillers of its era (and Europe was a major market for Ginnane) it just lacks a bit of edge, it doesn’t have the same adrenalin-rush excitement and it really only has one major visual set-piece.

Snapshot is also an erotic thriller (everything in the plot is driven by erotic obsession) that isn’t very sexy. There is the celebrated Sigrid Thornton topless scene. Interestingly that scene didn’t bother Thornton in the slightest. In fact she got the role because of her relaxed attitude towards nudity. But that’s it for the whole movie. In strictly commercial terms this movie really needed to be a bit raunchier.

The ending is wonderful. I can’t tell you why for fear of spoilers but it does represent a major shift in the entire perspective and tone of the movie.

While it needed to be spiced up a little I liked Snapshot quite a bit. Highly recommended.

Umbrella’s Blu-Ray look great and includes a stack of very worthwhile extras.

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