The directorial debut of Rebecca Thomas, Electrick Children, explores her own fundamental Mormon upbringing in an intensely odd and yet somehow enthralling dose of magical realism.
Told through the 15-year-old eyes of our crazily braided hair protagonist Rachel, played by Julia Garner (Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), this surreal road trip spins on a bizarre conceit.
After a creepy interview with her overbearing father (Billy Zane) and uptight brother Mr Will (Liam Aiken), Rachel sneaks down to the basement to examine the unknown contraption they used to tape her – a cassette recorder.
Upon hearing a male cover of Blondie’s inimitable Hanging on the Telephone, Rachel somehow becomes the bearer of God’s second coming. Not buying this Immaculate Conception, which is never fully explained, her parents swiftly move to marry her off, covering up the perceived moral crime. Soon afterwards, Rachel escapes to Vegas, brother in tow, unbeknownst to her.
The central performance by Garner is compelling. I’m not so sure this film would work quite as well without her. She has that dreamy quality so well worked by Ally Sheedy in cult teen hit The Breakfast Club. Aiken makes for a believable foil.
Thomas handles the subject material with a deft hand, skirting around heavy issues including religious indoctrination and possible child abuse, maintaining an assured air of indie cinema that comes into it’s own in the fantastically captured, neon haze of the big city’s bright lights and kooky characters.
This section works like Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, with great performances from Rory Culkin as the obligatory stoner Clive and Cassidy Gard as the sassy Snow. Powerful use of symbolism is evoked through fleeting flashbacks of Rachel’s mother, played by Lost’s Cynthia Watros, frolicking in a red Mustang, and the electric blue of the rock tape Rachel clings to.
Where the film loses some of its obstinately dreamy quality is in its final act, which treads more familiar teen movie waters. It’s a shame, as there’s plenty of scope for a more intriguingly obscure finale. However, the central mystery does leave an enduring, if somewhat head-scratching, afterglow.
Stephen A Russell