Rock music, an immaculate conception and a fundamentalist neo-cult church. Just another film screening at this year’s SXSW Film Festival.
Entitled Electrick Children, the film is the first feature from up and coming indie director Rebecca Thomas, and if this is any sort of map as to where this filmmaker’s career is heading, we all may be in for something really quite special.
Not your every day indie experiment, Children follows the story of Rachel, a young Mormon girl, no older than 15 years, who after coming across a blue cassette tape featuring some rock music, she believes that something immensely special has come out of that tape deck. A child. Believing she is the carrier of the son of Christ thanks to a song, Rachel abandons her church to go on a hunt for the singer of that very cut, and the subsequent father of her child. Blending melodic rock music with an equally lyrical sense of style, Children is a flawed film, but a gorgeous look into the human experience with music, and how ‘the Devil’s Music’ can be jus the redemption one needs.
Starring Julia Garner and Rory Culkin, the film’s cast is fantastic here. Garner is great as Rachel, a bright eyed young Mormon girl whose first true encounter with Rock music is not only eye opening and hip gyrating, but apparently impregnating. She is just the right bit of innocent to make the idea of her heading into this world a tad frightening, and also the film itself is innocent and introspective enough to be far more meditative than truly dramatic. Rory Culkin plays Clyde, a stoned out rocker, and is great here, playing opposite Garner, and the trio of Liam Aiken, Cynthia Watros and Billy Zane are all great as her family back in the church.
However, Thomas is the film’s biggest star, as she is one of the most singular new voices of this festival. Obviously, her blend of music and cinema is top notch, and the love she has for both mediums is thrilling and energizing. Her camera is ever moving, but not without a motive, making the film nearly as dream like visually as the premise is intellectually. Very much a small budget piece, the film looks shockingly expensive and artistically stunning for its cost, and Thomas’ voice is not only original, but it’s also solely hers and her hand is equally assured.
The film isn’t without flaw, however. Overstaying its welcome slightly, the film is just a tad overlong, and its style is not for everyone. Intellectually, the film is equal parts stimulating and a bit ham fisted, opting to tell the film’s major thesis rather than simply show it on screen. This is partially due to the type of narrative Thomas is attempting to read, but more so due to the screenplay itself, opting for odd voice over (which itself fits into the story, but feels slightly forced) to explain character emotion or thought.
Overall, Children, while being a flawed debut, is a debut from a filmmaker who not only has a distinct voice, but one backed by such a mature and profound directorial hand. The film itself may be insanely slight and in many ways anti-dramatic, but it’s also bewilderingly enthralling and captivating. Featuring top notch performances and some startling visuals, the film is definitely both a singular film one must see, but also from a director who film fans need to keep an eye on.