The feature debut of filmmaker Rebecca Thomas, ‘Electrick Children’ has generated a lot of hype at festivals around the world, in particular Berlin and the increasingly popular SXSW festival in Texas.
Set in present day, the story focuses on Rachel (Julia Garner), a curious and innocent 15-year-old who belongs to a remote Mormon village, disconnected from all the trappings of modern life. Unaware of the outside world, she becomes fascinated by a tape recorder used by her father (Billy Zane), and seeks it out at night. She finds a tape with a rock ‘n’ roll song on it, and upon hearing it feels it is a revelation from God.
Some months later, she falls pregnant. Rachel insists it is immaculate conception, given to her by God through the song on the tape, however her parents believe she is lying, banish her friend Mr. Will (Liam Aiken) and force her to marry a boy in the village. Rachel runs away from her fate, heading to Las Vegas in search of the singer of the song she heard.
What she finds is completely alien to her, and will uncover more than she expected. What separates ‘Electrick Children’ from most Indie Buzz movies is Thomas’ quiet, honest approach- we are never led to believe that Rachel is hiding something, rather an impressionable and mixed up child thrown into a very adult situation which she rationalises through her faith.
Therefore, the journey becomes less about why or how Rachel became pregnant, but more her fish out of water story- one by one her illusions about the outside world are shattered, her ideal of rock ‘n’ roll destroyed, and her quest for love not what she imagined.
Considering the context, it’s a surprisingly universal story. Garner’s performance is believable, and integral considering the whole movie rests on you going along with her for the ride. Her wide-eyed stare absorbing everything once she enters Sin City, and makes most of her missteps forgivable, because it comes from an honest place.
Aiken is hit-and-miss as Mr. Will, a character that is little more than Rachel’s conscience, while Rory Culkin continues his impressive run of performances as Clyde, the musical Vegas misfit who unwittingly falls for Rachel. Elsewhere, Zane is superb in the father role- an odd kind of antagonist, in that he is not particularly ‘evil’ or ‘cruel’, but lets his religious beliefs cloud what is truly right for his daughter.
A humorous climax ends a small, surprising drama that refuses to tie up all its loose ends, but tackles the ‘coming of age’ movie in an entertaining fashion that will leave an impression long after you’ve seen it.