When the idyllic facade of her relationship is shattered, Emily is left to pick through the pieces for answers.

Shawn seemed like a decent guy, he really did. But when he betrays Emily in the most personal ways, breaking her heart in the process, he soon finds himself bruised, and bloodied, and tied to a chair. Cuddles is the story of a woman who’s not willing to play nice anymore. She wants answers. She wants justice. And she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get both. Directed by Paul M Horan, the task was certainly a risky one to entail as a man. But Paul was surrounded by a powerful team of women who guided him in the perspectives and authenticity of the main character. Something that truly shines through in the film.

What really made me want to make this film was a mixture of higher profile public events around the world of sexual assault not being taken seriously enough (Brock Turner in the US for instance, and the Ulster Rugby case back in Ireland), and much closer to home hearing far too many horror stories of friends experiences. Once I started asking my friends, it seemed nearly every woman I know has been put in a position they shouldn’t have. I was very self conscious about approaching the subject, being a guy, so I really wanted to find a way into it from a perspective where I could maybe add something. I also got brilliant feedback throughout from my producers Natalie Britton and Kate Hamilton (Queens Gambit Films) to make sure Emily’s character felt authentic. Rather than just setting out the good and bad characters up front, I wanted to keep things more gray and noir-ish for a while to hold back on being too blunt with the ‘message’. Ideally, the goal – as well as simply enjoying the story and the film – is that some fellas in particular might see parts of themselves in Shawn’s character, and maybe have a bit more empathy in the future.

For the way it was shot, it was a bit of a risky one. This isn’t the way films normally look of course, being quite this static for long spells, but I got kind of interested in the way people can quite easily sit through youtube videos of someone just talking casually to camera. The immediacy of it seems to break the expectation of cuts every few seconds, because even if the video was recorded last week, the person is speaking to you. So I wanted to try that out, to have our camera immediately acknowledged as a camera, and the character be talking directly to us. I wanted that connection between her and us so that we would become her witnesses in a way. This isn’t something happening in a vacuum, our presence on the other side of the screen is a fundamental part of the story. There was definitely a temptation at times to build more camera movement into the story to try to make it more visually dynamic, but it just didn’t feel as authentic. Our DP Heather Ballish did a brilliant job with the lighting and cinematography to keep things really visually interesting, which was greatly helped by Production Designer Paulina Truong who decorated the whole room from scratch. Even with all this, we knew up front it would take two brilliant performances to pull it off, but thankfully in Lorna Larkin and Kevin Stidham we found them.