I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but throughout my life I have seen quite a few films. Not as many as some people I know, don’t get me wrong, but I like to think I’ve seen several over a wide range of genres and lengths. With that in mind, I have to say that Ian Hunt Duffy’s short film Gridlock is one of the only films that seamlessly shifted my mood within a minuscule amount of time.
This short film takes place on a picturesque country road somewhere in Ireland. A traffic jam has caused an extensive pile up of cars waiting to pass, that only seems to add to the foul mood of our lead Eion (Moe Dunford). He is traveling with his daughter, late for something and desperate to relocate his daughter. We aren’t aware of what plans he is missing, but you can tell he would rather be there than in gridlocked traffic.
The film is marketed as an “American thriller with an Irish twist,” and that is exactly what it is. It took something that could be very American, a gridlocked traffic jam with frustrated motorists, and put it in a serene countryside that screams small UK town. Sure, superficially you know it’s Irish by the musical tones to the actors voices, but there is something else about the energy of the film that transports you into a new realm of the film world.
After a few stressful moments of waiting for something to happen, Eion gets out of the car to check on the progress of things, which turns out to be dire and with no end in sight. Begrudgingly, he returns to his car to find his daughter missing. She has gone missing in the bright light of day surrounded by impatiently waiting drivers.
As the tension builds within the story, the audience’s mind starts to wonder. How can a little girl go missing from the backseat of a car while a couple behind her stares at the vehicle? Are people distracted that easily within their own lives to not notice something as traumatic as that? If this had happened on an expressway, would the outcome be the same, or worse, and which is more frightful? The tension is perfectly played that at every turn nothing is revealed, but somehow the tension still rises.
The questions continue as Eion and other motorists begin to widen their search, and look to other motorists for answers. You begin to point out odd things about everyone, trying to solve the case before the father does. Anyone could have kidnapped her, everyone is a suspect, and the audience, and characters, start to have their suspicions about their neighbors.
In situations like these, one starts to question everything. They embark on criticizing those around them, trusting nothing they see at face value. When something as precious as a child goes missing, there really isn’t any line you aren’t willing to cross to come to a resolution. Enemies become friends, but friends can easily become enemies.
While all of this is going on, there is a distinctive and unnerving shift in mood, a dark cloud moves over the film, but the audience isn’t able to pinpoint to it. The climax is growing, and you know you’re at the end, but you still can’t see it. And then, it happens.
The film is only about 15 minutes long, and during this short time the shift between tension thriller turns into a dark strain before your eyes. There is no break in story or trajectory of the plot, nothing that would signify a bounce between two extremes, but it is there. Darach McGarrigle, the screenwriter, does such a beautiful job in creating seamless junctions between the acts, that it’s a marvel. When the film first began, my intrigue brought me to want to see this as a feature, but at the end, I’m grateful it is not.
I’m not grateful because I don’t want to watch this played out over an hour plus, but grateful because this film is perfect the way it is, and that type of perfect is hard to find.
Gridlock has played at several festivals, and has won Best Short at the Rhode Island Film Festival in 2016, Grand Prix Irish Short at the Cork Film Festival in 2016, and the Most Inspiring Short at the Irish Film Festival Boston in 2017.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Gridlock