Director: Rachel Thommas
Runtime: 96 minutes
Rebecca Thomas’ Electrick Children opens in an undefined time and like another film about a village, it is revealed what appears to be the past is present day. Working previously in documentary, Thomas’ attention to ethnographic detail, although fictional, elevates what would have been an easy fairy tale in lesser hands.
The film opens as Rachel (Julia Garner) provides a deposition of her faith into a tape recorder; she has just turned 15. Rachel and her family are fundamentalist Mormons, living in a small self-sufficient community. They are not entirely removed from society; when they really need something they get in the truck and head down to the market. Billy Zane plays the head of the community.
Fascinated by the tape recorder, she wanders down to the basement and finds a cassette tape, presumably her first exposure to recorded music – entranced by the voice she soon discovers the music has caused an immaculate conception…of sorts. Rachel is threatened with an arranged marriage to keep appearances up and when she does not comply she takes off, banished along with a boy known as Mr. Will (Liam Aiken) by Zane’s leader Paul.
Escaping in the truck, Rachel drives through the Utah desert and on to Las Vegas in search of Rock-N-Roll. So begins a series of discoveries that mirror another narrative by a documentary filmmaker, Stephen Low’s Across the Sea of Time. Hooking up along the way with a drop out/skater/indie rocker, Rachel and Mr. Will have their youth rebellion while largely staying true to their fundamental principals. Mr. Will actually prefers the community; Rachel is in search of the voice from the tape, guided by her faith.
Electrick Children, written and directed by a Mormon filmmaker, is an extraordinarily compelling feature film debut with a star-making performance by Garner. The film is more a narrative of self-discovery than the religious parallel it defaults to in passages, including areas that are more vague than others, leading to hidden implications spoken only by the skaters. Perhaps this is the film’s largest barrier of entry, unlike other narratives where we can trust and potentially verify what we see. An immaculate conception requires a leap of faith, and this will not be the last leap of faith this narrative requires.
The film’s strong elements are its use of space and landscape. There have been many films about lonely teens wondering around darkened suburbs, hanging at skate parks, and “dropping out” from society as youth rebellion. Here is a rare faith-based story where someone ends up not where their faith believes they should, but where they were perhaps always meant to end up.
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