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tick tock
Tick Tock
Reviewer: Joanne Ross
Director: Jeffrey Reyna
Cast: Tracey Birdsall-Smith, Stuart McClay Smith, Nicky Birdsall








Lord Alfred Douglas, the spoiled, aristocratic lover of writer Oscar Wilde, wrote a poem entitled, “Two Loves”, in which he states, “Have thy will, I am the love that dare not speak its name”. That line was quoted in an English court during the sensational case involving Wilde who was charged, tried, and convicted of “gross indecency” for his “forbidden” homosexual love affair with Douglas. The trial, indeed the affair itself with Douglas, would prove to be the downfall of the celebrated Wilde who was sentenced to two year’s hard labor in Reading Gaol. Upon release, he spent the remaining few years of his tragic life living in ignominy, poverty, and ill health in France. Pious hypocrites, moralists, and religious zealots would no doubt regard Wilde’s fate as just retribution for a life lived in unspeakable sin.

Tick Tock Trailer from Tracey Birdsall-Smith on Vimeo.

The line, “. . . I am the love that dare not speak its name”, could also be used to allude to incest, a social and cultural taboo as heinous to us today (and always) as homosexuality once was to society during Wilde’s time. The topic of incest is explored in the independent, short-subject film, Tick Tock, directed by Jeffrey Reyna, and written by actress/writer/producer Tracey Birdsall-Smith with the screenplay by Kevin B. Coleman.

There is much to admire and appreciate in this suspenseful, provocative little film about the doomed love between a brother and sister: keen direction by Reyna, lyrical cinematography by Alexandre Lehman, and an ambient score that conveys longing while weaving a seductive yet dangerous spell that traps the protagonists in the heated embrace of an irresistible and impure passion. That the filmmakers succeed in telling their story as beautifully and completely as they did in just under 10 minutes is an impressive accomplishment.

Kitty (Tracey Birdsall-Smith) arrives home and prepares for what appears to be an assignation. Moments later she is overcome from behind by a masked man who turns out to be Jasper (Stuart McClay Smith), someone she knows intimately. We learn that Kitty is married – she’s expecting her husband to arrive home shortly – and Jasper is her lover. But theirs’ is not some cheap, easily discarded love affair. Rather, their involvement is one of long standing, and one that speaks of strong ties of affection and desire.

The frustrated Kitty is tired of keeping their relationship under wraps. Practical-minded Jasper reminds her, “We have to be a secret.” Kitty answers, “It’s never felt wrong.” Driving a wedge between the two is Jasper’s impending marriage that the jealous Kitty can’t accept despite the fact that Jasper doesn’t seem to have any problem with the existence of her husband.

Predictably, Kitty and Jasper fall into bed for a sexy love scene that is filmed with delicacy and thankfully, not the tawdriness one might expect for a romp between two people engaged in a hole-and-corner affair. The hypnotic piano score that accompanies the scene reflects the haunting echo of a ticking clock. Could time be running out for these two?

Tick Tock plays with the reversal of audience expectations by adding an unexpected twist to the proceedings. We know something is going to happen. Given the circumstances, we’re pretty sure what that something is and who else is likely to be involved. But because we are given only the sketchiest of information concerning Kitty and Jasper’s mysterious past, there is no way we can accurately predict the outcome so the audience will be blindsided by the revelation.

The weaving of biblical themes and symbols (notice the apple) into the fabric of the plot deepen the story’s implications by placing the disturbing nature of the pair’s relationship into a broader context. The filmmakers’ point of view is pretty clear.

When we are young, in those moments when we are in the grip of a heady rush of desire and rampant hormones, it is only natural to succumb to sexual temptation, however it presents itself. The satisfaction of the physical senses and engagement of the emotions – lofty and otherwise -- hardly seems wrong to those involved. That the attraction may be toward the “forbidden” (incest between siblings) might at least be considered understandable, if not acceptable, given the innocence of youth. But when the accidental and experimental youthful fumbling in “forbidden fruit” doesn’t die away but becomes instead a willful, deliberate pursuit in adulthood, then a price will be exacted for the continued commission of a spiritually prohibited act.

Appreciating it as much as I do, I wish I could give Tick Tock Roger Ebert’s iconic “two thumbs up”, although I do give it a justly deserved high rating. At issue for me is the story’s climax – the pair’s “payment” for their transgressions. Their fate feels more superficially shocking than it does organically tragic. The passage from Deuteronomy that is tagged onto the film’s end has the effect of a punctuation mark; included, it seems to me, to make certain the audience gets the point. The point should be made through the telling of the story, not through an editorial comment made at the end. As the passage stands, it reads like the proverbial, “Here’s the moral of the story . . .” summation.

However, putting that criticism aside, I highly recommend this intriguing and exceptional film.-JR