Monday, July 10, 2017

AMERICAN FABLE (2016) (DVD Review)


Label: IFC Midnight

Region Code: 1
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 96 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: Anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1)
Director: Anne Hamilton
Cast: Peyton Kennedy, Kip Pardue, Gavin Macintosh, Rusty Schwimmer, Marc Miller

In director Anne Hamilton's American Fable (2016) 11-year old  Gitty (Peyton Kennedy) lives on a farm in Wisconsin during the 80's, the Reagan-era, not a great time for family farms as I recall, with thousands of farmers losing their family farm to the banks, and her family is right in the middle of that sort of financial trouble, with their farm crumbling around them and sinking into a hole debt, foreclosure looms on the horizon, and it seems the homestead will soon be swallowed up by the banks.

Her father Abe (Kip Pardue) dotes on his daughter, quietly struggling to keep the farm afloat and to keep his daughter in the dark about it. Her mother Sarah (Marci Miller) is pregnant with her third child, and her older brother Martin (Gavin Macintosh) psychologically tortures his younger sibling at every opportunity, this teen is a serial killer in the making right from the get-go, a cruel and deviant kid heading down a dark path. 

With his farm sinking Abe reaches out to a mysterious woman named Vera (Zuleikha Robinson), who brings him in on a kidnap scheme that will put some cash in his pocket and keep the farm afloat for a bit longer, but if caught he risks losing everything. The plan requires Abe to keep a wealthy banker named Jonathan (Richard Schiff ) locked away in one of his feed silos until a ransom is paid, his wife and teen son are in on it, but wide-eyed Gitty only finds out about the stranger in the silo when her dear old dad warns her to stay away from it, telling her it's off-limits, which of course she cannot help but disobey, she's a curious id after all. 

The story is told from the young girl's perspective, and Peyton Kennedy is wonderful, carrying the film on her shoulders with a naive and nuanced depth that I found rather amazing. The movie itself is as advertised a "fable", it has a dark fairytale quality about it that distorts the line between reality and imagination as perceived by young Gitty. Assisting in that is the gorgeous scope lensing, the rural Wisconsin countryside with it's seemingly endless green fields of corn and grain are captured with a keen eye that brought to mind the meditative cinematography of a Terrence Malick movie, behind the lush greenery a darkness is implied, as if behind every lush row of corn may lay a secret or some rural slice of evil, it's that sort of movie. 

While not a horror movie, it is dark and slightly fantastical, when Gitty first encounters the kidnapped Jonathan through a hole in the side of the silo I wondered to myself if he was imagined, or perhaps a dark elf trying to trick her into freeing him from his prison, it has that sort of 'what if' magic about it, and I loved it. One of the more striking aspects of the film is the presence of a dark queen, a manifestation of a growing darkness that Gitty envisions in dreams, and during her waking hours, a leather clad woman adorned with horns, riding a black horse, it's a very striking image and something that really struck me, there's a reason that the image of the dark woman pursuing Gitty through the rows of corn adorns almost all the advertising.

There are so many great character moments and interactions throughout, young Gitty is wise beyond her years, but also naive and imaginative, her interactions with Jonathan are a treat, him trying to slyly influence her to free him, she grateful for a captive audience, for some semblance of a friend, particularly after an accident incapacitates her beloved father. Her cruel brother's torments are rough, going as far as to kill her pet chicken out of spite and feeding it to her, in retaliation for her humiliating him during a simple game of chess, Macintosh is frightfully good as the disturbed older sibling.

Special Features: 

- Deleted Scenes (5 min) 
- Behind-the-Scenes Still Galleries: Costume Build, Silo Build, Silo Sketch 
- Trailer (2 min) 

American Fable (2016) is a thoroughly engrossing film carried in large part by Peyton Kennedy's powerful performance as a wide-eyed, imaginative young girl coming of age during a difficult time on the family farm. I love the rural 80's setting, the surreal pastoral imagery is wonderful and unsettling, all wrapped up in an intriguing veil of youthful imagination and dark fantasy, it made for a great watch, highly recommended.