What does it take to be a brutal, stripped-down, thriller? How much plot is one allowed to expect in a movie which, seemingly, has amongst its goals, topping out at just about 90 minutes? How much blood? How much violence? How much foul language? We all may know the general scope of such a film, but is there a specific formula?
If the answer to that last question is “yes,” one need look no further than the new film from writer-director Chad Faust to see how the formula plays out. Starring Bella Thorne alongside Mickey Rourke and Faust himself, “Girl” is nothing short of being the perfect example of such an effort. There is not a moment in this film that isn’t telegraphed, there is not a death or a reversal one doesn’t see coming, but through sheer force of will Faust and Thorne make it work.
I would indeed call this a “stripped-down,” but just how bare bones is it? Well, Thorne’s character is known as Girl, Faust is Charmer (because allegedly he is one), Rourke is Sheriff. Girl’s mother, played by Elizabeth Saunders, is Mama. The bartender? He’s Barkeep (Glen Gould). The character list, though short, largely goes on in that manner. It should be noted that Lanette Ware plays Betty, and Betty seems to be the only name in the whole movie. I therefore have to believe it is a total and complete accident for it to have occurred (maybe they realized in post production and couldn’t figure a way around it).
I may kid around with “Girl,” but it’s not unimpressive. It has brutal moments that other would-be thrillers (see: “Unhinged” from earlier this year) would only dream of, and it has an absolutely kickass lead in Thorne. Girl’s motivations are simple: she is going back to the small town where her dad lives (she left when she was six), in order to kill him. See, he’s been sending threatening letters to Girl’s mother, having already broken her back years earlier, and Girl is done with it. Unfortunately for her, when she arrives in the town and finds her father, she learns that he’s already dead. She then runs afoul of the town folk and learns a little bit more about where she comes from before the credits finally roll.
Most of the movie is spent with us watching Girl as she looks incredulously at those around her. She is trying to figure out relationships and history and learns that the puzzle she had put together about who she was and where she was from had a lot of pieces left out.
One of the biggest problems with the movie is that everyone in the audience will work out the full scope of the puzzle before Girl comes anywhere near it. We exist outside the world of the film and so it’s easier for us to observe these truths, but there is still something a little dispiriting about the movie holding back on Girl realizing them until so late in the process. It is difficult (but not impossible) to treat as revelation something everyone but the lead knows is coming, and “Girl” doesn’t quite sell it.
As for the best thing the movie has going for it, that’s undeniably the way Girl interacts with the men around her, whether it’s Charmer or Sheriff or Barkeep or anyone else she comes across. She is kind when warranted, but in an absolutely take no prisons manner – she doesn’t mind telling people right from wrong and calling them on it if they step out of line. It is tough to mix that with the fear Girl also clearly feels as she pursues her quest, but Thorne and Faust manage it.
It is, in fact, actually when Faust is on screen opposite Thorne that “Girl” is at its best. Rourke’s Sheriff is too generically malevolent, too flat a bad guy (an attempt to explain him never quite comes off). Charmer is not. He’s someone that you can believe could have been good, could have done the right thing, but just never had a chance and once he broke bad, he broke hard. There is an electricity in Charmer’s conversations with Girl that make the movie crackle. One wants more of that throughout than we get, but will still be satisfied with what is present.
In this, his directorial debut, Faust handles the entire thing quite well. It isn’t the most uniquely defined of films, but the general darkness and grime of it all is, if not enticing, then gripping. There is some undeniable foolishness in the way Girl herself proceeds and some moments that defy all forms of logic, but by being “stripped-down,” by delivering little beyond the necessary, Faust has fewer opportunities to go off the rails. With some successful performances he makes an enjoyable (depending on your level of bloodlust) movie. If the presence of shmaltzy Christmas fare already has you hungering for a little bit of unhappiness, “Girl” is the ticket.
photo credit: Screen Media Films