Electrick Children: Like a virgin

By Helen Barlow

Electrick Children is a quirky film about rock meeting religion. Its director talks to Helen Barlow.

Julia Garner in Electrick Children. Photo / Supplied
Julia Garner in Electrick Children. Photo / Supplied

Electrick Children is an enigma of a movie in the best possible way. Essentially, the eccentric American indie is the story of Rachel, a fundamentalist Mormon teenager experiencing an immaculate conception after hearing rock music on a cassette - a cover of Blondie's Hanging on the Telephone - for the first time.

For first-time director Rebecca Thomas, the film isn't just a riff on religion, it's personal.

"This movie is so close to me," admits 28-year-old Thomas, who grew up a Mormon, though in a less conservative environment. "I felt like I wanted to adapt a bible story; I wanted to tell the story of the Virgin Mary but updated. I thought if there was ever a Virgin Mary on the planet, she would probably be one of these fundamentalist Mormons, because it's such a closed community."

Thomas was born in California and raised in Las Vegas. At 21, in a break from her film studies at the Mormon Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, she spent 18 months as a missionary in Japan. Since studying for a Masters in film directing at Columbia University, she has remained living in New York.

While she might be called a lapsed Mormon, she still has a strong connection to the faith, which she commends for its sense of community.

Her film draws on her early life when she shared her character's perspective of moving between the traditions of Mormon culture in Utah and the bright lights of Las Vegas, which she laughingly calls "the city of sins".

"I actually feel like both places are home to me - and California as well. I've long been fascinated by stories of teenagers who were kicked out of their Mormon communities and headed to Las Vegas still believing in their faith."

Set in the mid-1990s, the story first focuses on Rachel (Julia Garner) as she lives with her large family in a fundamentalist colony in the arid landscape of southern Utah.

Upon discovering she is pregnant, her mother helps her escape to Las Vegas, where she falls in with a group of grungey slackers, most notably Clyde (Rory Culkin).

The luminous, astounding Garner is in almost every frame. After small roles in Martha Marcy May Marlene and the upcoming Perks of Being a Wallflower, she's tipped for bigger things, especially with the attention Electrick Children has been getting on the international film festival circuit in the past year.

"I found Julia the week before shooting," explains Thomas. "I'd been looking for someone who was 14 or 15 but it's really hard to find a girl that age with emotional depth who isn't sexy. I think that by the time they are that age they are plucking their eyebrows, cocking their shoulder and swinging their hips in a certain way.

"She was stunningly beautiful and white, with this crazy yellow curly hair and these blue eyes. So I called my casting director and said, 'yes please'.

"Julia had the depth of an older sister, somebody who could take care of the younger kids and with a little work we quickly found that she was this girl; she was Rachel. She was naive and courageous and I am really proud of her. To walk on set the first day and sit across from Billy Zane and be able to deliver was amazing."

Who: Director Rebecca Thomas and actress Julia Garner
What: Electrick Children, American indie film
When and where: At selected cinemas from November 8

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