For his feature debut Trinity (2016), writer and director Skip Shea has delved into the murky, uncomfortable and abhorrent world of child abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. An artful, troubled piece, this is a film bathed in a sheen of cathartic therapy, given tentative credence as drawn from Shea’s own personal experiences.
Triggered by a chance meeting with his abuser, Michael (Sean Carmichael) is thrown into a maelstrom of emotions as his own mind conjures up haunting, terrifying imagery that plays out like a series of unbearably grim sketches. A tortured artist who creates portraits of the recently dead using their ashes as his tools, Michael embarks on a journey through the darkness of his soul. Tormented by his own self-loathing, and yet fully aware of his dissociative behaviour, Michael is forced to confront the various facets of his disturbance through interactions with several characters from his past and present.
As the scenes play out, the narrative becomes (by design) increasingly confused as images recur, and characters act and react in differing ways. Michael stumbles through his own psyche, with awareness always just beyond reach. Ever present, and leering over the entirety of the film, is the nemesis figure of Father Tom (David Graziano). So grisly a villain as to be almost caricatured, Graziano fully inhabits the loathsome role of abuser, and offers a fully formed centre to Michael’s spiralling terrors. Whether retribution, redemption or just simply reluctant acceptance is on the cards you never quite grasp, and it is to Shea’s credit that he manages to maintain interest from his audience despite the challenges in following the film’s abstract format.
Beautifully shot, with scenes elevated through artistic camera angles and an aggressive, almost industrial score, Trinity does, however, present the viewer with some problems. The dark, often grisly vignettes articulate the confusion Michael feels with contradicting clarity, but it is a puzzle that is too often difficult to solve. The information gaps are intentional, but the less committed of audiences may struggle to balance their own frustrations with Shea’s overall, latterly revealed vision. Persistence is rewarded in the final act, but whether to any satisfaction will be determined by your own feelings on the film by that point.
There is also the relevance of Trinity being a very personal project for the filmmaker. While emphasising the truth in what you are watching, at times the film feels too voyeuristic, almost invasive as Shea lays bare his deepest feelings.
As a work of art Trinity is an impressive, honest work of visual poetry. Judged solely as a piece of cinema, there are issues that a casual viewer may find too difficult to overcome. Not one for the masses.
Trinity was screened at this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF, 22 March to 26 March 2017).