Film and rock music have led an often tempestuous relationship over the years. There always seems to be a difficult push and pull between the logical narrative and the spontaneity of sound. Musicals? Pah. An artificial creation that bares no resemblance to any music that sane people listen to. Of all the filmmakers of recent years, it is arguably French auteur Gaspar Noe who has come closest to bridging the gap between heady pop music and cinema; most notably, the hallucinogenic Enter the Void evoking an uncomfortably sweaty club experience.
With Electrick Children, debutante writer-director Rebecca Thomas tries to orchestrate her own mini festival of images. She authors the story of Rachel (Julia Garner), a teenager living with her family cult in remote Utah. Taught/controlled by her spiritual father Paul (Billy Zane), she lives in blissful ignorance of the outside world, happy to listen to the words her father sings to her. Of course, this existence grinds to a halt once she discovers the musical tapes hidden in the basement and sets her on a world of discovery. This epiphany is heightened by the discovery of her pregancy, which she is convinced has been caused by a song on the tape. Can a cover of Blondie’s Hanging on the Telephone really result in immaculate conception?
Suspecting her brother Mr. Will (Liam Aiken) as the only possible culprit, the parents throw him out and seek to marry off their daughter to a local boy. The siblings make their escape, finding themselves in the neon landscape of Las Vegas and the incapable hands of Clyde (Rory Culkin), a stoner dude who introduces the bewildered pair to the local rock’n’ roll scene. Rachel’s search for a father for her child and the mysterious voice of ‘the telephone’ has begun.
Electrick Children is an enjoyably sensual experience, DOP Mattias Troelstrup revelling in the sun-hued desert plains and dusky streets of Las Vegas and Utah. If Rebecca Thomas’ aim was to evoke the hazy comedown after spilling out of the club at 3am, then she has succeeded. The muffled, gentle piano score combines well with the woozy visuals, and Thomas makes frequent use of noise music to replicate the rock’n’roll experience.
The performances are fine, Julia Garner the standout as the innocently elfin yet determined Rachel, who bares an uncanny resemblance to a younger Leelee Sobieski. Director Thomas utilises the juxtaposition between this clash of cultures, the wholesome siblings and the wayward rockers that they find themselves veering towards. Yet, this fish-out-of-water element feels fairly familiar and executed with more conviction in Peter Weir’s 1985 mormon thriller Witness. The biggest problem with Electrick Children is Thomas’ flakey script, which lacks focus and meaning. At times it feels like Thomas is trying to relate something meaningful about discovery, yet by the final act we are left with flippant quips and an uncharacteristically showy finale.
It is evident Thomas has an eye for visuals and an ear for music, but it’s the unsubstantial structure and content of the piece that ultimately drags the film down. However, there is enough promise and singular vision here to mark out her as a filmmaker to watch in the future.