This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 11th November 2012
A mysterious, dimly lit opening scene establishes more questions than answers, as 15-year old Rachel (newcomer Julia Garner) sits happily in a cellar, seemingly being debriefed by an ambiguous Billy Zane. This strikingly naive character – halo-blonde hair and peasant dress evoking someone from a Jane Austen novel – responds good-naturedly, but we viewers feel distinctly uneasy. Just what sort of community have we stumbled upon?
When later, having fallen under the spell of some forbidden rock music, Rachel makes a dash for the bright lights of Las Vegas, she finds herself wondering the same thing. Venturing into that den of iniquity, she meets slacker-musician Clyde (an excellent Rory Culkin) and his gang, who are largely unfazed by the tenderfoot’s awe of modern paraphernalia, such as mobile phones.
Raised in a Mormon community and thus well-versed in the lifestyle, director Rebecca Thomas creates a perfectly pitched exploration of religious dogma and the faith of the cosseted, which is neither preachy nor caricatured. It’s a charming update on the Immaculate Conception, drawing several parallels while providing no more elucidation.
The performances are superb, and while a coming-of-age story has only so many cliches up its sleeve, the gentle chemistry between Garner and Culkin is touching in its awkwardness. Similarly, Rachel’s parents are not portrayed as Bible-thumping bigots, but real people with real pasts, revealed in beautiful, hazy flashbacks.
Narratively, Electrick Children is a strange beast, at times so eerie and ethereal that it ceases to really plough the depths of what’s going on for its characters. However, this well-crafted first feature marks film-maker Thomas out as one to watch.