Small towns are full of secrets. They tell stories. And the rougher the town, the darker the story. That’s the gist behind Chad Faust’s new neo-noir thriller Girl, which screened at this year’s Fantastic Fest. It is the perfect film for such a festival: rugged and brutal, stark and tense. At the center is a riveting performance from former Disney star Bella Thorne, who’s recently made a name for herself in darker fare. It’s a smart move, and Girl is probably her best performance to date. She’s immediately believable as a headstrong country girl who cares for her mama and throws hatchets. And she’s riveting enough to make a no-name character feel so knowable.
Girl has a Winter’s Bone vibe. It’s all backwoods, blanched countryside and middle-American accents. The setting is ambiguous. Characters are mostly nameless. The title is evocative of this sparseness. This girl could be anyone. Here, she’s a girl on a mission to find her father and kill him. After her disabled mother—crippled by her father’s abuse—receives a death threat letter from her former husband, Girl takes off to his small hometown to track him down. But she doesn’t find the answers she expects; instead, she’s roped into a world of secrets and conflict. The center of that conflict is the confrontational local sheriff played by a perfectly cast Mickey Rourke.
Girls’ father’s town is a place we all know. Ghostly, vacant. Leash-less dogs roam the streets. Bicycles lay abandoned on the sidewalk. The neighborhood bar comes fully stocked with odd characters; folks who have known each other their whole lives, whose stories are entwined generationally. And indeed, this is a story about generations. About the misconceptions we make in the absence of physicality. In the tall tales spread through families like weeds.
To say more would spoil the secrets that hold Girl up and keep it fresh, intoxicating, and surprising throughout. Director Chad Faust—who also stars as one of the quirky, jerky-eating townspeople giving Girl a hard time—has an excellent first feature on his hands. Girl is a great, grimy character study that’s more dense than it appears at first glance. It slips into “seen it before” cliche here and there, but ultimately carves its own path as a heartbreaking story about family and missed opportunities.
And again, it’s Bella Thorne holding this thing together. Her central performance is great, and watching her develop into a serious actress is one of the film’s true gifts. She wields her hatchet and she knocks down bad guys with a boot-kick and we cheer her along every step of the way. It also has a jazzy synth score that gives the film another hazy, discomforting layer.
Girl isn’t necessarily one of those festival films that’ll have you buzzing. The performances aren’t super flashy. It’s methodical and moody more than anything. But it’s a movie that gets under your skin and stays with you. And it’ll make you pretty terrified of Mickey Rourke.
Featured Image: Screen Media