Directed by: #ShaunOConner
Written by: #PaulCahill
As the film begins, we see a young girl anxiously approach a telephone box. She enters. She is wearing a medical gown. We don’t know why - and yet, it’s not hard to figure out. This predicament summarises my experience watching Shaun O’Connor’s short film, A White Horse, which offers us the unexpected while also being predictable.
The young girl, Bridget (Amber Deasy) phones up her parents to inform them that she’s run away from the medical institution that’s been holding her. Bridget’s parents (played by Cora Fenton and Jack Healy) seem naturally anxious, concerned about their ‘abnormal’ little girl’s well-being. I appreciate the unique way in which the director and writer (Paul Cahill) invert our expectations (and inversion as a concept is at the heart of the film). When Bridget brings up the possibility of reuniting with her old friend, Niamh, Bridget’s mother abruptly changes her tone, no longer the loving and maternal woman we thought her to be, but in fact a rabid and unsympathetic homophobe. In fact, Bridget’s incarceration isn’t the result of a mental breakdown but a queer self-realisation.
A White Horse is not an ordinary tale of a young girl having to confront what others think is best for her. Something exciting happens in the mid-way reveal, the tonal shift which momentarily enlivens the film. But then it all too quickly falls back into predictability, without much narrative strength. I’m sure the ending was intended as a sincere representation of the horrors of conversion therapy, and it’s a commendable effort. But having electro-shock therapy act as a narrative conclusion seems gratuitous albeit well-intended, and what’s more disappointing is, it’s unenlightening. A filmmaker needs to ask themselves, after having many films already made about homophobia and conversion therapy, is it not more pressing to explore the incentives, beliefs, and subjectivities of those who are active participants in prejudice and those who are its victims, rather than just show the apparatus of violence. There is nothing to learn from A White Horse about homophobia that we didn’t already know, no matter how traumatic O’Conner tries to make the film.
One issue that may be responsible for this shortcoming is that Bridget doesn’t quite feel real to us, even though the ten minute film tries to stuff in photographs and back-stories that make her seem more real. But nothing insightful is conveyed to us by Bridget herself, just by the props and people around her. This is more of an issue I have with the writing than the acting - and the film is undeniably well-acted, with Amber Deasy and Cora Fenton offering a solid and poignant mother-daughter relationship, sifted through a claustrophobic dimension by Jass Foley’s cinematography.
I admire how the film creates a story out of its opening scene (something which most short films fail to do, mistaking the first scene as the whole film) and the mysterious metaphor offers moments of intrigue - a white horse, which Bridget fears is following her during her escape. A white horse? Whether symbolic of the white-coated medical establishment on her tail, or tapping into mythological folklore (white horses having a rich cultural history, associated with saviours, war heroes, or portents of death), it heightens the film’s potential. Perhaps as a feature, with more time to broaden the story and characters, this motif could really build into something powerful. And indeed, A White Horse, though limited in its power, shows that O’Conner and Cahill have potential.