SNO BABIES: A Flawed Depiction of Addiction

We are drawn to new films for a variety of reasons. Many times, the pull is a particular actor or director whose work we idolize and anticipate. For others, it is the subject matter that is appealing, dramatized insight into politics, stories, and viewpoints. For others, it is simply the similarities to old films that are promised, films that have stuck with you for years. With Sno Babies, from director Bridget Smith, it was the latter that drew me in. Upon reading the synopsis, I found myself thinking back to Thirteen from director Catherine Hardwicke and starring Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed. Unfortunately, there may be similarities, but Sno Babies is no Thirteen, missing many of the marks it promises.

Sno Babies is a cautionary tale that in its graphic nature had the promise for success, deterring, and inspirational surrounding the lives of privileged youth struggling with drug addiction. Yet, while the promise of the premise seemed solid, Sno Babies lacks the confidence and focus, suffering from an identity crisis, aware of its central character but to ADHD to stay with her, to invest in her – to make us care for her. By the time Sno Babies has ended, many will feel judged, missing out on the cathartic and informative experience that was initially anticipated.

Let It Snow

Sno Babies begins with an intimate interaction between boyfriend and girlfriend, a montage of close-ups setting the stage for the addiction that will follow. As a young boy coerces a young woman to “live a little”, the first step towards addiction is taken. While the film opens with oxycontin, it immediately flash-forwards to the same woman, Kristen (Katie Kelly) now at a high school party with her best friend Hannah (Paola Andino) diving into the world of heroine. What is most striking in these first few moments of the Sno Babies is how adult these two young girls seem. As Hannah preps and draws the heroine, skillfully injecting into a vein in her friend’s tongue, it is hard to see them for what they really are – teenagers. It is from this moment, however, the film chips away at this perceived maturity, proving to viewers that they are in fact, babies.

SNO BABIES: A Flawed Depiction of Addiction
source: Better Noise Films

This is a story of young women battling both addiction and recovery – all while facing the turmoils of coming of age. Yet, as effectively as the film sets the stage, it overcrowds, drawing the attention away from the struggles these two teenagers face. Too often, Sno Babies switches the focus on another couple or set of individuals, leaving Kristen and Hannah, behind. This should have been a story that focused primarily on Kristen, and secondly on Hannah. The gut and heart-wrenching struggles of a young addict, whose suburban lifestyle leaves her vulnerable to opportunity. Parents not home or too busy, money easily accessible, and naivety abounding.

One of the biggest pitfalls in having such an extensive ensemble for the film was the lack of depth that could be provided. The film had the opportunity to create a story of the effects addiction can have on the addict, as well as those that surround them. While Sno Babies does give attention, with some scenes providing a taste of this, overall the film fails to give any meat to these characters. Kristen herself could have been provided more depth as a character. The basic moments of coming of age are checked off between Hannah and Kristen, but there is nothing to make me want to like them – to feel any empathy towards them. Even their depiction of upper-class suburban lifestyle alone made them dislikable as characters, which will instantly give many viewers a bad taste as the narrative formula displayed could be applied to many families or household situations – none of which should be looked down upon but rather examined and learned from.

You more than empathy for success

At times Sno Babies is unbelievably hard to watch. There are moments you will find yourself with fists clenched, stomach-churning, and unable to look at the screen. The needle puncturing an already infected toe, the sexual favors demanded for additional payment, and the fight to stay undetected, just to name a few, are necessary visuals, yet ones that will definitely turn some viewers green. And while you may find yourself looking away, it is the introduction of what some addicts will do to survive and maintain their addiction that the film is driving home.

SNO BABIES: A Flawed Depiction of Addiction
source: Better Noise Films

Yet, where the film succeeds in these visual moments, it’s short-lived. The editing is messy and abrupt, throwing viewers from a young girl struggling to inject her tongue, to a man struggling with money, back to a mother preparing for a potential promotion. And it is understandable why the editing is so erratic at times, the pieces they were given to strewn together seem to arise from an idea that was not cohesive from the beginning. A mother and her career, a rape that is never truly addressed and a family struggling with money and fertility all seem like they might have had a place, yet feel like they were ideas during brainstorming that were never quite hammered out.

Now, this is not to say that all is lost. Sno Babies does succeed though in its more subtle moments. Young girls dealing drugs while in line for Communion. No adult sees the interaction, but the small children do – especially the young girls. It is in these moments of subtly that the film shows the confidence it could have had in itself, allowing the visuals to speak for the film, to guide its message forward. If the film had leaned more into these moments, the film would have reached a high elevation.

Instead, Sno Babies fell back on the need for filler, need to include narrative storylines to make sure the audience was able to interpret the film’s message. Matt (Michael Lombardi) and his wife Anna (Janes Stiles) fit the bill. Matt is struggling with running his late father’s preserve, his sister pushing for a sale, and his wife euphoric with the possibilities of a home and a family. While there story of infertility and financial struggles will echo for many, their story was out of place in the film. It was if the film did not trust its audience to see and understand the privilege these girls had, but also the opportunities they were throwing away without giving the perspective of a struggling family. It is in these moments Sno Babies is at is most judgmental.

SNO BABIES: A Flawed Depiction of Addiction
source: Better Noise Films

Katie Kelly brings Kristen to life with the innocence of childhood and raw vulnerability to the pressure of her peers. There is a power in her performance from start to finish, the struggle she allows herself to journey with her character that makes her performance a standout. She fights against the film, trying to infuse a desire for audiences to feel empathetic towards Kristin, as the film surrounding her rips that away. Paola Andino too delivers a strong performance, yet Sno Babies‘ constant exclusion of her gives her little time to shine. And while some of the actors hit their marks, others drag their characters begrudgingly through the mud. Michael Lombardi gives an emotionally flat and abrasive performance as Matt, though not entirely to his fault as the material he is provided leaves him struggling to find anything tangible to work off of.

Stop the Rape

Can we please stop using rape as a means to impregnate our girls and women. Yes, it exists and is something in the media that should not be ignored. There are lessons, perspectives, and constructive stories that can be derived from the topic, from its inclusion. But if you use it, do not ignore it. One of my biggest issues with Sno Babies, an overarching element of the film that hung heavy in the air, was its inclusion of Kristen being raped – and then never addressing it. 13 Reasons Why used it in their narrative as a means to start a conversation. Sno Babies uses it as a means to create a conflict for Kristen – pregnancy – rather than being the conflict itself. When Kristen says “I’m going through things” it is her recovery, addiction, and pregnancy that she references. Never once is the rape brought up again.

She never seems upset that this happened, even her psych never addresses it. The only time we get close to her she is upset in relation is when she reaches out to Brandon and he hangs up on her – that he left her with the baby and not this is happening to her because she was raped. There is a strong feeling I could not shake as a viewer that there is an allowance for rape. That if she hadn’t been high, she would not have been in that situation. She basically asked for it. While this may not have been the intention of the writer or filmmaker, its translation from script to screen reads harshly and unempathetic. This is a harsh criticism for the film, yet one that overshadowed Sno Babies from its introduction.

Conclusion: Sno Babies

One lesson that is clearly true from watching Sno Babies – no one is immune, and money does not prevent the vice grip of addiction from claiming those we love. While Sno Babies has its flaws, it does drive home hard the messages of addiction – it is dark, it is ugly and it is hard. It is not only the battle of suffering from addiction but also the continuous fight against it. And the most heart-wrenching understanding, that without you knowing it, someone you love could be quietly suffering and fighting without your knowledge. It could be your kids, your student, your friend or a random stranger you passed on the street. Addiction knows no boundaries.

Have you seen Sno Babies? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Sno Babies will be release VOD on September 29, 2020.

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