Thom Fitzgerald’s return to the film landscape after half a decade in television is his most quietly disconcerting work.
Splinters works itself into your soul slowly and refuses to budge, changing the make-up of the audience’s biases and challenging their ideas of sexuality all along the way.
The Halifax filmmaker may not have been born here, but the Nova Scotian flavour is ingrained in his very soul.
Fitzgerald’s latest work is evocative and grandiose in the way it displays emotion and complicated family dynamics without ever diving into melodrama.
Based on a tearjerker autobiographical stage play by Lee-Anne Poole, the story shows the beautiful landscape of the Annapolis Valley set against the difficulties of a young daughter and her tumultuous relationship with her homophobic mother.
When Belle returns to the valley to help her brother and grieving mother after her father’s death, she walks back into a home where she feels only a begrudging acceptance of her sexuality.
She came out to her mother as lesbian years prior, but she’s consistently challenged by the matriarch’s overbearing feelings on the subject. Her mother’s hope that she’ll ‘change teams’ is a point of contention, even as they face a funeral and need to come together.
But Belle is hiding a secret: she’s met a boy and fallen in love and has been in a ‘straight’ relationship for two years. Not wanting to get her mother’s hopes up, she tries to hide it, but when her boyfriend shows up uninvited to support her, she’s put in a tricky situation.
Stuck between defying her mother’s expectations, trying to navigate her own complicated, out-of-the-box sexuality and attempting not to get her mother’s hopes up, her mourning period is marred by extra turmoil.
Closet Monster co-star Sofia Banzhaf leads an incredible cast, with an awards-worthy performance from Shelley Thompson as the morbidly fascinating mother who just can’t understand her daughter.
Thom Fitzgerald presents sexuality as fluid and gives an authentic depiction of coming out (this time twice) and all the underlying baggage that comes with it.
This is a crowning jewel of a film and one of the most affecting, poignant films I’ve seen all year.
Splinters continues with in-person screenings at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre until November 8. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.
Jordan Parker is a PR professional and journalist in Halifax, and these reviews appear first on his film blog Parker & the Picture Shows.