Describing a film as ‘shoegaze’ is a pretty unusual thing to do. It sounds like the film is so bad or so scary that the only place you can look is at your feet. But there just isn’t a suitable cinematic equivalent (shoewave?) for this evocative musical term. Shoegaze implies a tone of introspection and calmness whilst always being incredibly cool. It was these characteristics that jumped out at me when watching Electrick Children (2012), the debut feature from Rebecca Thomas starring Julia Garner (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and Rory Culkin (Igby Goes Down). The film is welcome addition to the slow and steady stream of post-Indie films that trickle out of the US via SXSW.
Supported by an amazing soundtrack, Electrick Children takes you on a Hipstamatic-tinted pilgrimage from earthy Utah to aetherial Las Vegas. Our two travellers are Rachel (Garner) and Mr. Will (Liam Aiken, Lemony Snicket’s), brother and sister who have both left their Mormon family behind them. Rachel has become pregnant; she believes a contraband cassette tape was a vessel for her immaculate conception, whilst Mr. Will is accused of raping her. He is ejected from the household and she runs away. As Rachel searches for the voice on the tape (her Joseph), Mr. Will desperately tries to find vindication. Enter Clyde (Culkin), his merry band of lost boys, plus skateboarding, slo-mo, and other signifiers of mid-90s modernity to clash with the pair’s archaic life experience.
The religious parallels in the story are thankfully ambiguous enough for the more cynical viewer to question Rachel’s belief in her divine pregnancy. After attending a Q&A with the Director and finding out more about her own life and past experiences it has become quite clear to me that Electrick Children is at its best when at its most ambiguous. Hearing from Rebecca Thomas threatened to undermine some of these uncertainties, turning the film into a well stylised but ultimately flawed parable. Without these insights into Thomas’s intentions you are left with a beautifully simple rumination on the effect of a child’s upbringing on their world-view.
Rachel and Mr. Will’s Mormon upbringing not only creates some particularly sweet fish-out-of-water moments, it also is a fascinating insight into a culture that is virtually unexplored territory for British audiences. The closest most people have got to understanding the Mormons is getting them mixed up with the Amish in a Louis Theroux documentary, myself included. So Electrick Children is a welcome contribution to the fight against our own ignorance in this regard.
Electrick Children is a refreshingly small and complete film. The narrative is tight and composed, with no distractions along the way. The look of the film is beautiful thanks not only to the lighting and camerawork but also the dramatic contrast in locations from the Utah hills to neon lit pavements of the Sin City. The acting is understated, naturalistic and a clear example of shoegaze cool. Make sure you head out this weekend and watch it whilst you can.