Screwdriver tells the story of 17-year-old Michael (Kent Ibe), a gay student who has recently moved towns due to bullying. He lives alone with his Mum (Norma Dixit) and his plan is to keep his head down and finish school unnoticed. However, while at school he meets Josef (Matt Blin), the two begin to develop feelings for one another and Michael’s plan won’t be as easy as he hoped.
Writer and director duo Natalya Micic and Dylan Mascis present the story in an unconventional, but nonetheless commendable form. Cut over a split screen we watch two different shots at the same time; often a shot and its reverse, two separate subjects shown in conjunction, or the same scene played out from different angles. Micic and Mascis, by telling their entire story this way, invite us to see double meaning in their images and double the information (a shot of still-unpacked boxes plays next to a shot of Michael’s bruises; his situation and its explanation shown together). It’s a form that allows for brilliant, almost silent performances (especially from Ibe) as characters are given an equal amount of personal attention if they’re speaking or being spoken to. One scene in particular we have to endure both Michael being chided by his Mum for his lack of a girlfriend and watch his reaction as he stays heartbreakingly silent about his true sexuality. Presented simultaneously, rather than in isolation, we feel an intimacy to both characters, at the same time. We endure the tension and recognise the things unsaid as though we are in the room with them. No simple task to give this to an audience who may never have experienced Michael’s situation.
This uncomfortable and voyeuristic atmosphere gives Michael’s story an emotional weight. Unfortunately this is let down by a rather clunky script, especially in its dialogue and use of voice over. Michael narrates, speaking into a recorder functioning almost as a confessional; this is a tragic story after all. The problem is that it’s often used to give the same information that we can read from the screen – he tells us about the bruises and the boxes a few minutes after we’ve seen them. Similarly Josef is introduced with a cut on his lip and we immediately link the boys through their scarring but annoyingly the dialogue brings this up and then clumsily throws it away. For a film that, by its very nature, is showing us multiple sides to a character and multiple sides to that character’s story it lets itself down when it directs our attention. Instead I found myself picking out shots that I wanted to see more of. Or reminded of the work of Lynne Ramsay, a director who can expertly show you just enough to infer meaning but never to fully know; films like hers live on as we learn more with each viewing.
However, lamenting a film for what it could have been will only get you so far and there are still things to be impressed with in Screwdriver, it’s just a shame the filmmakers didn’t have more confidence in their choice of direction. The writing over-labours the drama and the split screen begins to rely too heavily on effects created by the framing rather than by the content that’s in the frame. It’s a story that’s worth telling and the directors have found an original way to tell it, unfortunately it loses it edge as the film plays out.