Thursday 13 November 2014

The Matchstick House (2013)

Director: Sean Kyte
Stars: Todd Isaac, Kellie Cornelison
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
From the outrageous non-stop genre shenanigans of Present Tense, not to mention the engaging comedy of Technically Grounded before it, The Matchstick House felt like an abrupt shift in tone. Instead of subtly being drawn into the story of David and Jennifer, a pair of newlyweds with a sad story that we'll discover in flashbacks driven by the little matchstick house of the title, we wonder why we've suddenly left warp speed and slammed on the brakes. Perhaps it would have sat better after Blue and After the Beep, a pair of shorter, more serious, relationship based films, so the set could wrap up with comedy and let us leave the theatre with a grin on our faces. Of course, it's completely unfair to judge Sean Kyte's work on what played before it, so it was important for me to see it again in isolation and review it on its own merits. In that way, it's clear that it's a decent film, capably acted and well escalated to a natural conclusion, if not a groundbreaking way to wrap up a set of shorts.

We begin with David Guzy doing little things that appear to have no consequence whatsoever but which we gradually realise have strong meaning for him. He gets up and faces the day, for a start, in the early hours, setting up the coffee machine and dropping a scoop on the floor as he does so. There's nothing at this point that we remotely care about, but there are good reasons for Kyte to include them, which begin to manifest themselves as David sits down with his coffee to browse through photos of him and his wife on Facebook. Clearly she's not there any more to react to him dropping the scoop on the floor. When he starts to pack up knickknacks and bric-à-brac into boxes, we wonder why. He's curiously without emotion for someone who's clearly lost a young wife in one way or another, until he carelessly hauls books down from a high shelf and damages a little matchstick house that he'd unwisely set out right in the way only a few moments earlier. Now he's traumatised and he drops everything to fix it.

Thus far it's been Todd Isaac all the way, playing David somewhat appropriately in sleepwalk mode. That changes when we shift to the flashbacks prompted by this house, which is the epitome of a personal item to which nobody else would pay any attention. It's hardly a fancy or complex creation, just a little cube of glued together matches with a little roof on the top, but as we quickly find in flashback, it took Jennifer a whole morning to make. It's an important link because that was a crucial morning, one which David must be running through over and over because it's rooted in his fear of change. Fighting one change, he sets into motion another and he'll be stuck with that till the end of his days. Isaac gets to play with a number of sides of David's character, a complex one for a thirteen minute short and one which anchors the film even more than the matchstick house of the title. As Jennifer, Kellie Cornelison is a good foil, but it's the contribution of Jay Fitz over the phone which grounds the psychology of the piece.

I found that I didn't like The Matchstick House as much when I watched it at the Phoenix Film Festival, but a lot of that was surely because of its odd placement in the set. I've liked it more with each successive viewing, if 'like' is a suitable word for something that's so inherently sad and overwhelmingly traumatic, especially as the score stops when the end credits start and we finish in silence. In many ways, watching it over and over feels utterly appropriate, as that's surely what David is doing a hundred times a day, but of course they're his memories and his matchstick house sitting there to trigger them again and again. It feels like watching the film taps us into that cycle in an enlightening way. I wonder how people who have gone through serious loss have reacted to this picture. Perhaps that's what prompted Sean Kyte to make it to begin with. While the matchstick house is inaccessible to anyone but David, The Matchstick House is personal and neatly universal. Everyone will take something different away from it.

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