A while back I reviewed another installment in the Realm of Never series, the black-and-white tale of societal paranoia in the face of government dominance known as Moratorium. At just under half an hour, it was a thoughtful film that went down easy and impressed with its clean, unending shots and oddly wooden though at the same time captivating performances. Now, after watching When Snowflakes Fall, directed by Christopher Del Gaudio, I have to wonder what Power of Cohesion Productions plans to do with this series in the future. The story presented this time around is decidedly different, and not for the better. In fact, it makes me think Never may be on the fast track to becoming too topical for its own good.
Filmed four months after the events of September 11, 2001, this episode of the series focuses on a family as they struggle with the loss of one of their own, a firefighter named Bobby who was reported “missing” in the wake of the World Trade Center’s destruction. Christmas is fast approaching, and the resident leader of the pack, Mama Jo, is busy preparing a large meal and decorating her home. Her daughter Missy, daughter-in-law Peggy, and neighbor Victor—who worked with Bobby as a fellow firefighter—worry for her inability to accept her son’s death. She feels his “missing” status means he could very well still be alive, and refuses to listen to any opinion stating otherwise. The rest of the film sees just how these people come to grips with their situation.
Like Moratorium, this film is shot in a studio as if it were a staged production, but I don’t feel the effect works nearly as well this time around. Whereas an Orwellian story almost begs to be shot in one continuous session, the plot of Snowflakes is quiet in nature and could have stood for a different approach. I also make this assertion because the acting on display here isn’t nearly as believable as that in Moratorium, and thus some of the actors suffer when put in front of the camera for long periods of time. No one is hard to watch, mind you, but they suffer from the tendency to make their dialogue very breathy and strained, almost as if they’re trying desperately to make the script meaningful. Only Joanne Antonucci manages to intrigue from time to time as the forlorn mother.
The other major problem with this being shot in a studio is just how obvious it is to the viewer that they’re not in fact in the house of Mama Jo. It’s oddly distracting to try and watch actors move around a space that is peppered with items like a Christmas tree and stockings but is walled off by a large black curtain. Moving the camera to the right reveals an even more inappropriate white screen, as if the space drifts into an eerie sort of limbo state. I can understand limitations, but ultimately I didn’t feel grounded and the story, which was already uninteresting, seemed even more lightweight.
I say the story is lightweight because it is, even though I’m sure it was crafted in a total spirit of nobility. The unfortunate and highly possible effect of making a film about 9/11 is that the proceedings can reek of schmaltz and an overt sense of sentimentality, and that’s just what happens in Snowflakes. The dialogue is riddled with broad analogies and lofty musings on life and death, and all of it is set to wispy string music that could put anyone to sleep. Eyes become dewy during particularly dramatic moments, people run out of rooms in epic displays, and so on and so forth, but it all comes off like an offbeat soap opera. By filming just a few months after the attack on America, Gaudio makes the mistake of dipping the events and loss in a pool of pure, uncomplicated sappiness, leaving no room for anything except clichéd messages of hope and togetherness. This may have worked in any other setting, but for The Realm of Never, which is billed as a supernatural drama, it doesn’t work at all. Perhaps later installments of the series will prove more probing.