Directed by #BryanStynes
Film review by Nathanial Eker
Punching its way onto screens with a vivacious smack to the face, Whirlpool presents an engaging premise but an overly simplistic solution that worryingly treats violence with cathartic reverence. Though it admirably highlights the pressing social issue of abusive carers and more prominently presents a protagonist with a disability in a position of control, its ferocious attitude disturbingly suggests an un-ironic belief that releasing pent up anger is the best way to encourage meaningful change.
Jimmy (Michael Linehan) is a martial arts hobbyist whose father (Bill Topin) is slowly losing his mind to dementia. Convinced that the old man’s carer Tim (Thomas Leggett) is messing with him for his amusement, Jimmy opts to take matters into his own hands.
The characterisation of our lead is apparent from the beginning. He’s a man knocked down by life with a strong (if misguided) sense of right and wrong. His continuous refusal to allow his disability to get in the way of day to day mundanities is immediately engaging. This likability is extenuated by his father’s tragic situation and Bill Topin’s haunting performance which creates deeply rooted audience sympathy. Regrettably then, when the ‘might is right’ mindset takes over, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand Jimmy’s reasoning. While slimy Tim might well deserve a good thrashing, we know that after the camera stops rolling, the consequences of this action will be abrupt and brutal for our young protagonist.
It’s challenging then to assess the problematic versus the empowering when it comes to Whirlpool. On the one hand, it focuses on a man with a disability (a depressingly rare sight) and has him overcome the adversity of an oppressive force in a position of care. However, the method by which Jimmy obtains this empowerment is troubling. Had Tim instigated the violence, we would firmly align with Jimmy. As the script is now, it’s firstly difficult to understand the true extent of Tim’s treachery and secondly, Jimmy’s assault is just that; an assault. Had the film re-contextualised this with a final scene that shows the implications of such a mistake, it could’ve made an excellent cautionary tale. That would of course have relied on the filmmaker’s acknowledgement that said action was indeed, a mistake.
One of the less frustrating elements of Whirlpool is the often-excellent filmmaking on display. Ignoring the pointless intertitles, performances are strong and the gritty, realism infused tone is exemplified by a shaky camera. Director Bryan Stynes takes his time, favouring long, extreme close ups that enhance Jimmy’s intensity. That said, the mise-en-scené is somewhat bland, characterised by dull colour grading and uninteresting sets. Of course, in a realism focused piece this is expected, but it nevertheless makes for a rather grey film with an aesthetic that matches its problematic message.
A case could be made for Whirlpool as an uplifting story of a disabled man reclaiming responsibility from those who subjugate both he and his father. Had Jimmy’s plight ended with social intervention or a brutal scolding with reasoned arguments that brought smarmy Tim down a peg or two, I’d have firmly been in both his and the film’s camp. As it is, Whirlpool is a problematic film that revels in outdated notions of violence as a solution, not a problem. However, its bad doesn’t wholly outweigh its good. Michael Linehan dazzles as Jimmy, and the work off camera for the progression of filmmakers and actors with disabilities is immensely commendable, as is its commentary on corrupt carers. Just be sure to take its ‘might is right’ message with a grain of salt.