Rynn Jacobs is a lonely, but well equipped 13-year old girl who lives with her poet father, while keeping a dark secret in the cellar. Although whenever somebody dropped by she would tell him or her that her father was too busy to greet his or her guests, or that he was out of town. But her life in solitaire is interrupted when she gets a visit from her snoopy landlady and her perverted son who takes a real shinning to Rynn. This is when Rynn goes to any lengths to keep this lifestyle with the help from a local crippled boy Mario, to herself.
This noteworthy gem of small-scale, mystery-thriller incorporates a fascinating slow-drifting character study that has certain believability in its characterizations and manipulative suspense. The macabrely, lurid context of the film could have over-step the mark, but it keeps it mostly under-wrapped with it being more hinted, than aiming for anything really illustrative. But that in mind, it doesn’t lose any of that unnerving effect that’s spun out, because the confronting performances and crafty dialogues are extremely effective in underlining the disquieting horror that lurks within the film’s make-up. What sweeps you along is that the script is lyrically dense and quite thoughtful, while it still generates psychological tension in certain scenes without needing to go out with a bang. There’s nothing big or powerful about it, because it plays it cards close to its chest and grafts away with it’s involving story and sedated handling. The compelling plot is incredibly well defined by touching on many different aspects that Foster’s character encounters. These range from loneliness to her approach on life through an adult perspective and finally that of her estrange relationships with some of the town’s folk. It’s all about her finding her feet and living her life the way she wants to without the intrusion of others (the adults) enforcing their resolutions onto her because she’s “just” a child. Life is what you make it and she’s not going to play their game. It’s just really hard to categorise this unique film (which, was originally intended to be a TV movie), because it goes down oh so many paths, but it’s successful in gelling them together.
Jodie Foster in the lead role makes the character her own by providing a maturely astute performance as the independent girl Rynn Jacobs. Her professionalism really does take hold in this picture and she does so with great control. Martin Sheen is equally as good and believable by playing his villainous character in a very subtle way, but still able to bring a creepy and vile presence to this predator Frank. Scott Jacoby is likable as Mario; Alexis Smith is great as the intrusively stern landlady Mrs. Hallet and Mort Shuman as the caring local officer gives a moving performance. What makes these performances so great is that they have vivid characters to feed off and shape.
Since it was intended to be a TV movie it does feel and look like one, but none of that took away from the elegant looking production. You could tell it was low-key because most of the film did take place in or around Rynn’s isolated house. The direction by Nicolas Gessner is carefully crafted and from the outset he paints a mysteriously brooding atmosphere. The simple layout of photography is crisp and beautifully demonstrated. While, the stirring score is quite a strange one with it’s heavy handed approach, but it has some sort of a hypnotic trance because it likes to play around with the moody and quite edgy situations.
This under-appreciated find of the 70’s is a surprisingly focused and innovative treat that grips you from the very opening.