When a Mormon teenager falls pregnant, she believes that she has immaculately conceived a baby from God through rock music.
Rebecca Thomas, 2012
15-year-old Rachel (Julia Garner) lives with her Mormon family in a farmhouse in rural Utah. One night, Rachel finds a cassette that her brother Mr. Will (Liam Aiken) has squirrelled away, and finds listening to it to be a transformative experience. Not long after, she realises she’s pregnant, and tells her parents that it was God’s voice in the music that got her knocked up. They banish Mr. Will and decide Rachel should be married, but she nopes out, stealing the family truck and heading to Las Vegas to find the man who sang the song on the tape. There she meets burnout musician Clyde (Rory Culkin), who takes a shine to her, and tries to discover the secret of her pregnancy.
Electrick Children is the first full-length feature directed by former Mormon Rebecca Thomas, and it definitely feels like a freshman effort. There’s some talent on display here, mostly from director Thomas and her lead actress Julia Garner, who has exactly the right mix of naive sweetness and inner steel to make Rachel feel like more than just a cypher. The film’s on shakier ground when attempting to mix magical realism with some very dark themes that bubble under the surface but never break it, to the film’s detriment. There’s something to be said for implying rather than outright telling the audience what’s happening some of the time, but Eletrick Children is so heavy on implication that it’s really, really hard to figure out what’s going on a lot of the time. Scenes frequently cut just before important conversations are about to happen. There’s also a strain on the credulity of Rachel’s story – she drives herself from Utah to Las Vegas with no money, then manages to find her way to the truth purely by coincidence. Applying a sheen of “magical realism” over the top of plot holes doesn’t make up for poor storytelling, which can make the film very frustrating.
This isn’t to say there’s nothing to recommend in Electrick Children. It has moments where it looks lovely, though many of its indie stylistic tics are more annoying than cute. The sound editing is fantastic, using music very effectively. Rachel encounters a variety of different types of music, some of which she likes, some not so much, and they all contribute to her emotional state at different times. The film also utilises sounds like the ocean, the click of a tape player, and ambient noise to create a full soundscape as the backdrop to Rachel’s journey. As I mentioned, Julia Garner is terrific, her youthful face a canvas for Thomas to work on (though I was very, very aware of her 15-year-old-ness throughout the journey, and the utter irresponsibility of all the adults around her). Liam Aiken and Cynthia Watros do a good job with more interesting and complex roles as Rachel’s brother and mother respectively – I would be particularly interested in learning more about Mr. Will, whose undergoes his own transformation. Rory Culkin tries, but Clyde is such an unsympathetic wet rag of a character that it’s really, really hard to ever care about him at all. The appeal of Clyde is completely lost on me, I’m afraid. There’s something too convenient about the film’s ending, given the dark material it refuses to give voice to. Hopefully Rebecca Thomas will put the raw talent on display here to more careful use in the future.
Electrick Children on IMDb