Festivals

{Movie Review} ‘Girl’ at the Celebration of Fantastic Fest

Girl is a simple revenge thriller with a stellar leading actress and a villain that will give you nightmares. Check it out as part of the Celebration of Fantastic Fest in 2020.

The Titular ‘Girl’ (Bella Thorne) in Chad Faust’s movie of the same name comes back to her relatively inauspicious home town to enact revenge on a father she believed to be abusive. When she finds someone else has already beaten her to the punch a mystery starts to unfold.

Director, Chad Faust, who also plays one of the villains named Charmer has a firm grasp of what he wants to do with Girl. As a result the entire film feels dirty, and tired. Much like the town that serves as the setting everything about Girl has a patina of dust and dirt. As a result it made me yearn for a bottle of hand sanitizer or a wet wipe. One can’t help but make comparisons to Winter’s Bone, and other thrillers about small midwestern towns that don’t have the Hallmark charm about them

This is Faust’s first feature film and while it has some flaws the individual parts come together to make a taught thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat while also tearing at your heart in confusing ways.

Bella Thorne comes across as a different type of movie star. The edge she seems to bring to everything shows up in Girl and the movie is better for it. She is not an actress that might feel uncomfortable with dirt or grime and as a result her character looks and feels like she lives maybe even thrives in that environment. There is a level of authenticity she brings to this role that even when bits and pieces of the script took me out of the story (like why does she only refer to her parents as momma and daddy. She is a grown ass women) her performance kept me engaged. This felt like a breakout role in much the same way the aforementioned Winter’s Bone was for Jennifer Lawrence. Thorne stood out as a highlight and I can’t wait to see what she does next as she seems to be one of the horror genres up and coming starlets.

So about the bad guys. Faust, the director plays one of them. He is fine. Suitably smarmy but also a little lecherous or gross. Anyone that calls themselves Charmer is probably not that. Although you can see why some might think that about him. He is good looking, relatively smooth especially when used as a foil for the other monster in the movie.

Generally speaking Faust is the little menace to the mountain of trouble that is The Sheriff played by Mickey Rourke. It is nice to see Rourke get roles that he can really dive into. Rourke is not subtle (as he was The Wrestler). Nor is The Sheriff redeemable. He sure is terrifying though. Rourke knows his body and face well and uses both to create tableaus of chaos. He is a walking hazard . If we ran into him on the the street we would turn around. In that context he is perfect for the job he he was given. Compared to a small but fearsome Girl, The Sheriff provides an added layer of empathy for the main character. Abusive and murderous police figures have been all over the news lately and its not a far leap for the audience to see just how much power The Sheriff has over the small town. Rourke and Thorne create a fantastic battery for the rest of the movie.

Be warned, the movie is mostly one level. It is very serious and revels in that drama. That can sometimes feel like oppressive. It never feels tedious but it does feel exhausting. The audience feels exhausted for what Girl has been put through. The town feels exhausted by its own economic situation and by The Sheriff who seems more interested in exerting control than protecting the community. Even the end which may seem like an appropriate time to build in some calm ends with Girl almost bursting into tears either out of happiness or out of concern. In that way it reminds me of the bus scene at the end of The Graduate. There are two completely different and valid readings of the ending, one of those readings is terribly bleak.

At its core Girl is a movie about family secrets and being gaslit by the ones we love the most. The stories told by our parents or to our children are always told through and processed by our own filters. Those screens can sometimes add clarity but more often that not they can can make the truth harder to see. Girl asks all of us just how much are we willing to put ourselves through to find the truth?