This debut from 28-year-old indie director Rebecca Thomas is a low-fi but fascinating tale of teenage rebellion, inspired by her own Mormon upbringing in Nevada.
Starting out in dusty rural Southern Utah, Electrick Children is the coming-of-age story of Rachel, who lives in a repressive, fundamentalist Mormon colony. On her 15th birthday Rachel, played by an angelic-looking Julia Garner, discovers a forbidden cassette tape with a cover of Blondie's Hanging on the Telephone. Three months later she discovers she's pregnant and claims it's an immaculate conception as a result of listening to rock music.
Her parents blame her brother Will (Liam Aiken); he is asked to leave the colony, and her father (Billy Zane) organises an arranged marriage for Rachel with a young Mormon boy. Rachel quickly hightails it to Las Vegas (with Will hiding out in the back of the truck) on a quest to find the singer on the cassette tape. Instead, she falls in with a group of hard-core kids, including the troubled Clyde (Culkin), who teach Rachel and Will a few realities about life.
Garner is marvellous as Rachel, and her calm and ethereal presence gives this film a dream-like feel. She's naive yet curious, and fragile but determined, as she wanders Nevada like a modern-day Virgin Mary looking for answers and a place to settle.
Thomas's magical realist treatment works beautifully. It's a spiritual story and the approach is gently paced, nicely acted, and dark and moody - literally, much of it was shot at night and is hard to make out.
So far so good, but unfortunately the third act is rather contrived. Thomas relies on forced coincidences to wrap up Rachel's quest to find the man singing on the tape, which breaks the spell that has been cast over you up to this point. It leaves you with the feeling you've seen something that could have been something quite special - but which settles for pretty good.
Cast: Rory Culkin, Billy Zane, Julia Garner
Director: Rebecca Thomas
Running Time: 96 mins
Rating: M (Offensive language, sexual references and drug use)
Verdict: A contrived ending detracts from a mesmerising debut.
-TimeOutBy Francesca Rudkin Email Francesca