★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Mickey Rourke and Bella Thorne star in a rural revenge thriller that overcomes genre tropes and delivers a well-acted, engaging story.
Directed by Chad Faust
Female-fronted thrillers are finding eager audiences, with recent efforts such as A Good Woman is Hard to Find, Before the Fire (reviewed here), and Blood on Her Name (reviewed here) being a few examples. Girl, actor Chad Faust’s feature film debut as a writer/director, joins the latter two films as a thriller in a rural American setting, but boasting more star power and, arguably, heavier threats of violence. The result is a gripping movie that follows familiar beats but contains enough interesting variations on the rural-secrets–thriller theme to strongly recommend it.
Bella Thorne is no stranger to horror and thriller films, having previously starred in such vehicles as Amityville: The Awakening, Keep Watching, and I Still See You. Here she portrays a young woman (listed in the credits as Girl) who sets out to find and kill her father. The motivation for this is that he is planning on killing Girl’s mama (Elizabeth Saunders)— his ex-wife — after she demanded years of unpaid child support. Girl has grown up listening to her mother’s accounts of how the man abandoned the family when Girl was six years old, and how he broke Mama’s back during an act of domestic violence. When Girl arrives, against her mother’s wishes, in the small town where her father lives, she finds him murdered, having been tortured to death. This sets Girl off on a new mission: to find the culprit or culprits who beat her to her act of revenge.
Faust’s town of Golden, or at least the part of it in which Girl is set, is a dirt poor area inhabited by losers, drunks, and lowlife criminals, all of whom have some connection to each other. They all have tales, and connecting the puzzle pieces drives the story. For the most part, these characters follow rural thriller tropes, including the town sleazeball (Faust as Charmer), the abused barfly (Lanette Ware as Betty), and the empathetic barkeep who knows more than he is telling (Glen Gould). Faust fleshes these characters out well, though, giving them unexpected or at least insightful backstories that help Girl in one way or another.
The acting is terrific throughout, with Thorne giving a convincing performance as a hate-filled young woman prone to violence. Her portrayal grows better as the film moves along, and as her character develops. At first, Girl is shown as a beer-chugging toughie with smeared makeup and a hatchet in tow. The character becomes better rounded and given more to do than scowl as mysteries thicken. Mickey Rourke delivers the goods as the town sheriff, and as astute readers and thriller fans might guess, the lawman’s closet isn’t devoid of skeletons. Faust plays his creepy character marvelously, and the supporting cast members all give top-notch turns.
Besides being a taught thriller, Girl also delivers as a coming of age story and a tale of people trying to break the cycle of abuse. Faust balances the drama, action (the scenes of violence are well choreographed and, fittingly, uneasy to watch), and mystery well, and his debut feature behind the camera makes him a talent to watch in several arenas.Girl screened as part of Celebration of Fantastic Fest, which runs from September 24th through October 1st.. For more information, visit https://fantasticfest.com/.