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They should have revived the American International or New World Pictures logo to distribute Chad Faust’s Southern Gothic noir. The film would have fit in perfectly paired as a ’70s-era double feature with the likes of Macon County Line and Jackson County Jail, best seen at a drive-in on a hot summer night. While Girl, starring Bella Thorne and Mickey Rourke, is not quite in that league, it’s nonetheless a slickly made, effectively atmospheric B-movie suspenser that marks a promising feature debut for its writer/director, who also plays a featured role.
Thorne, quickly establishing herself as the busiest actress around (this is her fourth feature film appearance this year), plays the unnamed title character who returns to her small rural hometown to confront the abusive father who abandoned her and her mother (Elizabeth Saunders) years earlier. Upon arriving, she discovers that the barely populated town appears to be in its death throes both economically and spiritually. When the local sheriff (Rourke) offers her a ride, it sounds more like a barely veiled threat.
RELEASE DATE Nov 20, 2020
While the film leaves it vague as to whether or not Girl has come to kill her father, it turns out she’s too late in any case. Using a phone book to locate his house (she doesn’t even know what a phone book is, in one of the films’ only amusing moments), she discovers that someone has beaten her to the punch. In her search for answers, she comes across a variety of distinctive characters, including a bartender (Glen Gould) who tries to warn her to stay out of trouble, a friendly local (Lanette Ware), and the disingenuously labeled Charmer (Faust, very effective in the role), who strikes up a flirtation in a laundromat that eventually turns into a knock-down, drag-out brawl. But not before Girl demonstrates her dexterous facility with an ax.
It turns out that the sheriff and Charmer are in cahoots, searching for a large stash of money supposedly hidden away by Girl’s father and which they now believe is in Girl’s possession. It’s but one of many twisty revelations in the film — perhaps too many, with the filmmaker throwing in enough buried family secrets to fill a half-dozen Tennessee Williams plays.
The film is less compelling in its dialogue-heavy drama than when it simply concentrates on providing low-rent thrills. Besides the visceral laundromat fight, which is extremely well staged and filmed, there’s a terrific final encounter between Girl and the sheriff that demonstrates that a gun isn’t always deadlier than an ax.
There are pacing issues, to be sure, and the rudimentary storyline doesn’t live up to its pretensions. But the film proves strongly effective nonetheless, thanks to the filmmaker’s grasp of genre mechanics and the excellent performances. Thorne delivers a gritty, forceful turn that perfectly suits her emotionally wounded character. Rourke is even better; with his once handsome face now ravaged by years and external forces, he uses his imposing physicality to calculated effect. His canny underplaying and quietly subdued line readings makes the sheriff all the more chilling, if not exactly easy to understand. It’s a shame that this talented actor now only rarely gets the opportunity (the last notable example being his Oscar-nominated turn in The Wrestler) to show what he’s capable of.
Available in theaters and VOD
Production companies: Fella Films, Trilight Entertainment
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Cast: Bella Thorne, Mickey Rourke, Chad Faust, Lanette Ware, Glen Gould, Elizabeth Saunders
Director/screenwriter: Chad Faust
Producers: Thomas Michael, Shayne Putzlocher, Sara Shaak
Executive producers: Dave Duckett, Joe Ferraro, Jean Pierre Magro, Conor McAdam, Jason Moring, Al Morrison, Seth Needle, Lee Nelson, David Tish
Director of photography: Kristofer Bonnell
Production designer: Alexis Debad
Editor: Gloria Tong
Composer: Dillon Baldassero
Costume designer: Alana Romanin
Casting: Melissa A. Smith
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