SXSW 2013 Review: ‘Snap’ is a Fantastic Character-Driven Thriller

By  · Published on March 21st, 2013

Have you seen that Key and Peele sketch where the one guy is helping the other guy move and hasn’t heard of dubstep? You should, it’s hilarious. It also represents pretty much the entirety of my knowledge of dubstep. So a film with a synopsis that includes the words “underground dubstep” isn’t exactly up my alley. And yet, Snap was one of the most interesting films to play SXSW this year.

Part of the film’s success lay in its structure as a good old fashioned character study. The character in question is Jim Whitman (Jake Hoffman), a quiet, socially inept guy whose only outlet is creating his own dubstep mixes in his apartment. His one friend, Jake (Thomas Dekker), is constantly pushing him to get out and do more, to interact with people, to date someone. Sometimes Jake comes off as empathetic but more often than not he badgers, insults and annoys Jim until his anger gets the best of him. When Jim finally starts dating a girl (played by the beautiful Nikki Reed) from the battered women shelter where he repairs computers, things start to look up. But when the relationship starts to fizzle, Jim takes a dark turn towards a destructive conclusion.

Viewers spend nearly the entire film with Jim watching the events unfold from his perspective. It’s a demanding role for an actor but thankfully Hoffman is more than up to the task. He’s somehow gentle with a dark, dangerous side, a nice guy who doesn’t really know how to control his emotions. It’s a difficult dichotomy to pull off, but Hoffman does so with ease. You feel for Jim, but at the same time you’re worried about what he might do to himself or others if he, well, snaps.

The dubstep plays an important role as it’s a way for Jim to express himself through music that plays louder and louder as if he’s yelling at the top of his lungs and trying to drown out the voices in his head. It doesn’t hurt that the music used is actually pretty good too.

Snap does two things particularly well that can often be road blocks for lesser films. The first is the way it handles Jake. It does a good job of explaining what’s going on there without spoon-feeding it or beating viewers over the head with it. The film also gives a good reason for Jake and his behavior, one that makes sense in the context of the film and adds an extra dimension to the characters.

The second is the way the film quickly escalates once the shit hits the fan. And does the shit ever hit the fan… It’s so intense and so off the rails that you honestly don’t know if anyone is safe. Other movies have characters that you know are going to live, no matter how much peril the movie puts them in you’re never really concerned, but when Jim loses it all bets are off. Things happen that let you know pretty quickly that no one is safe. It’s rare to have that feeling when watching a film that almost anything could happen. It’s scary and refreshing and puts you on the edge of your seat. It’s a great way to handle the titular snap and it sets Snap apart from other similar thrillers.

It’s not a perfect film, but the quibbles are all pretty minor. Some of the lines are a little wooden and the film kinda grinds its gears when going from act two to act three. But ultimately it’s a really good psychological thriller that builds a great character, shows him from all sides and then stands back to watch when he explodes. It’s very well acted and well shot and it’s paced quite well, never slowing down too much. It brings up some interesting questions about mental health while reminding us that the people who suffer from mental health issues are still people, in many cases good people who need help. It should provoke some pretty interesting discussions afterwards and what better compliment can you pay a film?

The Upside: Jake Hoffman’s performance; the tight script; the questions it asks that don’t really have easy answers

The Downside: A few bad line readings here and there; a bit of an awkward transition into the final act

On the Side: Twitch writer Ryland Aldrich was a producer on the film.