Eoin is driving to an undisclosed location, making his way with his young daughter Emma in a car across the Irish countryside. But the pair is delayed when a traffic jam stops up the road.
Eoin goes to investigate, leaving Emma in the car playing with her doll and discovers that a horse-carriage accident has stopped traffic. But when he gets back to the car, Emma has disappeared. Eoin embarks on a desperate search for his daughter, confronting the passengers in the other cars, and soon everyone is a suspect in a high-stakes race to find the young girl.
Written by Darach McGarrigle and directed by Ian Hunt-Duffy, this taut thriller generates an adrenaline rush from a stripped-down set of narrative elements, squeezing enormous tension and suspense out of a narrow scope of time and place. But it’s also a compelling collective portrait of mob mentality, and how suspicion and paranoia are social contagions, passing fear from one person to another.
In a genre where control over the reveal of information is paramount and structure and timing are key, the writing is meticulous, laying down each beat of the story development with great care. Though it’s short, the story deftly juggles a growing cadre of characters and information, creating a narrative house of cards. As Eoin frantically searches for Emma — and the action builds up the central narrative question of who took the little girl — characters shift from suspects to allies and back again with each new turn of the story. As allegiances and alliances shift, so does the audience’s certainty.
The camera, editing and sound all work in concert to keep interest high, taking as much care to capture the flickers of subtle emotion in characters or seemingly throwaway lines of dialogue as it does the larger, more pulse-pounding moments. The film quickens as expected as Eoin tries frantically to find his daughter, mirroring his escalating fear. But it also knows when to slow down to create atmosphere and emotion, taking in the moment when Eoin stares at the blood and carnage of the dead horse, for instance, or a poignant moment between father and daughter before he goes to check out what’s causing the traffic jam.
It also slows down as the group dynamic takes over, as the crowd gathered at the traffic stop begins to search on their own. The entire cast — led by actor Moe Dunford as Eoin in an intense, high-wire performance — turns in deft, specific character portraits, each playing a crucial role in building up the mystery — and each piece will shift yet again in the film’s pulse-pounding finale.
Intriguing, tightly-wound and intricately constructed, “Gridlock” is undeniably well-made and compelling with each twist and turn, achieving a clever sleight-of-hand that will pique audiences to rewatch the film after they’ve reached its conclusion. The undeniably riveting storytelling demands a wider canvas for the talents of the filmmakers, having proven remarkable ability to fashion a complex mystery from a pared-down time and place — and the recognition that tension doesn’t have to be generated from spectacle, but from how people are quick to cast suspicion on those outside their bubbles and presume guilt before innocence as they chase certainty.