Immaculate conception, Mormonism, post-punk rock, skateboarding, innocence and Las Vegas boulevards and backstreets are among the unstable mix of ingredients that goes into writer-director Rebecca Thomas’ debut feature, “Electrick Children.”
It’s hard to tell whether this is a project that has been poorly thought through or thought through too much. Either way, it comes off as an art-house trifle.
After debuting in the Generation 14plus sidebar in Berlin, the film has screened in a bunch of international fests including SXSW and now AFI Fest.
It is a curio at best but does serve to more fully introduce Julia Garner, a young actress with an angelic face and brilliant blonde curls, who had a supporting role in last year’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”
She plays Rachel, a 15-year-old Mormon girl with a rebellious streak, who seemingly gets impregnated while listening to cassette tape of a cover singer’s interpretation of the Jack Lee/Blondie tune “Hanging on the Telephone.”
Within her strict rural community overseen by her preacher father (Billy Zane) — one that feels like it deliberately isolates itself from modern temptation since even an old-fashioned tape recorder is new to the girl — this means immediate marriage for her and exile for her brother, called Mr. Will (Liam Aiken), who is wrongly accused of statutory rape by their mother (Cynthia Watros).
Rachel instead steals her father’s pickup truck and drives to Vegas only to realize that Will is hiding in the truck’s flatbed.
Rachel naively sets out to track down the cover singer — why on earth does she think he’s in Vegas? — while her brother tags along to record her confession to prove his innocence.
Rachel takes a liking to one boy (a creepy looking Rory Culkin) or perhaps it’s the other way around. Somehow the film takes the attitude that life with these aimless kids is better for Rachel than the overly structured patriarchal community from which she escaped.
To these eyes, both look like exceedingly gloomy fates.
Implausible connections occur in the final third of the film but most viewers will have checked out much earlier. The ending is completely unsatisfying.
Garner holds things together about as well as anyone could expect. She has a dazzling presence that in much better films in the future augers well for her career.
Production companies: Phase 4 Films/Live Wire Films
Cast: Julia Garner, Rory Culkin, Liam Aiken, Bill Sage, Cynthia Watros, Billy Zane, John Patrick Amedori
Director/screenwriter: Rebecca Thomas
Producers: Jessica Caldwell, Richard Neustadter
Director of photography: Mattias Toelstrup
Production designer: Elizabeth Van Dam
Music: Eric Colvin
Costume designer: Stacey Berman
Editor: Jennifer Lilly
No rating, 96 minutes