Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), Sound of My Voice (2011) and P. T. Anderson’s highly anticipated The Master (2012) all bring new meaning to the term ‘cult film’. Continuing the fascination with the religiously naive and brain-washed, Mormon-raised director Rebecca Thomas delivers her debut feature, Electrick Children (2012). Rachel (Julia Garner), a 15-year-old teenager from a fundamentalist Mormon family, exists comfortably in the trappings of a commune. Raised on fairytales and bible stories, she is kept well away from electricity and becomes fascinated with a tape recorder which her brother will not allow her to touch.
One night, she sneaks into the basement where she discovers an electric blue cassette tape. On it is The Nerves’ original version of Hanging on the Telephone. Rachel suddenly finds that she’s pregnant and believes her rock music epiphany is the cause of her immaculate conception. Rachel’s family believe her condition is an act of intolerable transgression. So, along with her equally naive brother (Liam Aiken), she leaves the community and heads to the bright lights of Las Vegas in search of the singer and a glimpse of a new life.
For a debut feature, Thomas is remarkably confident in her delivery. The sweeping sensory camera and its ever-changing focus brings striking, minute detail to every scene. Told in three parts, Electric Children begins on the commune and with the sound of crashing waves. With close-ups of crawling ants and wide-angle prairie landscapes, the film shares the goose-bump inducing beauty of Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (2011) and similar attention to detail as Cate Shortland’s Somersault (2004), with which it also shares an equally vulnerable protagonist.
Garner, fresh from her role in Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, proves herself as an impressive leading lady. Rachel is acted with subtle vulnerability and in moments of silence her eyes, like saucers, continue the mysterious and gripping journey. Rachel’s arrival in Vegas is reminiscent of Daryl Hannah’s mermaid making a Splash (1984) in New York, but thematically her journey is darker and generally more concerning. Along with her brother, brilliantly played by Aiken, they encounter a gang of teenage wasters, led by Rory Culkin’s Clyde. It’s intriguing to watch as the worlds of the innocent and the tainted collide and that is down to the quality of the performances and the director’s sensitive focus on human contrast.
Unfortunately, a rushed third part of the film is a little harder to swallow. Coincidences come across as unconvincingly convenient and the tying up of loose ends is left nonsensically loose. It’s saddening that the latter part of the film lacks the intelligence of all that lay before it. That being said though, the talent doesn’t subside along with the plot and it continues to be a thoroughly mesmerising and hypnotic treat for the eyes. Electrick Children is an assured debut from Thomas, and if this is a mere taste of things to come, then the belly of cinema will enthusiastically rumble in anticipation of a follow up.