Written and directed by Margaret Rowe, during the angst of the early pandemic in the corner of a dark underground car park, a troubled young father leaves his sleeping child alone in the car. An appalled woman intervenes. Starring: Graham Earley, Maureen O’Connell, Aidan O’Sullivan and Brendan Kearney.
The most satisfying element to Mask is the writing and for several reasons. Primarily because of how smart it is, Margaret Rowe keenly plays the audience, knowing what direction the story is sending you in and using that perspective to her advantage. Which then allows a more pointed plot to point back at all of your assumptions. It’s almost as if the bigger initial elements of drama to the story work as distractions so that you don’t piece things together too quickly. At the same time, they work well on their own, the struggle of the young father (Graham Earley) is genuinely convincing. It also walks that line of sympathy, his choices aren’t black and white, he exists in a grey area of simply trying to survive and do his best.
Rowe’s directorial style then enhances that complexity by adding an edge to the atmosphere, it grabs that dramatic vein with one hand while approaching suspicion and irresponsibility with the other. It holds a very everyday aesthetic which was a great choice to balance that atmosphere, it’s not pushing too hard, so it can capture the typical struggle. The choices of shots and framing in particular have a great feeling of the observer, each character feels as though they’re being watched. Again it leads into the duality of the story, pushing you to think of the situation objectively rather than seeing it from one specific character’s viewpoint.
Graham Earley and Maureen O’Connell embody those dual sides perfectly, they both give a compelling mix of known and unknown quantities. There’s enough detail to lead us into their characters but also a lot of nods to other directions to keep you asking questions. Earley really pulls through that struggle, conflict and parenthood, with a relatable and moving performance. Maureen O’Connell gives us more of a mystery, there’s a lot of plain details but at the same time we know so little about her. It gives O’Connell the opportunity to play things directly down the line, keeping the performance open so that you genuinely don’t know what to do with her character, until the story gradually reveals more of her persona.
Mask plays beautifully on perception and assumptions, the pacing and progression work extremely well to not give itself away too early. Graham Earley and Maureen O’Connell lead the story with a perfect mix of mystery and drama. The style and tone never stray from a strong reality, it has a hugely relatable feel which makes it easy to get drawn into. There’s a lot of clever elements at play here and Margaret Rowe is careful to never overplay her hand in both the writing and direction, keeping things nicely understated.