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Faust’s Debut Film “Girl” Is Bella Thorne at her Best

Bella Thorne in Girl

If you aren’t watching Bella Thorne yet, you should be. With its haunting aesthetic, unnerving storyline and downright raw performances, Chad Faust’s debut film Girl is a rare cinematic gem in which the actress breaks out of her comfort zone — and lands right in her element.

The film begins with a disheveled, exhausted young woman called only “Girl” (Bella Thorne) nervously riding a bus to her hometown, Golden County. On the way, a phone call with her disabled Mama (Elizabeth Saunders) reveals that Girl is heading there to kill her father – who threatened to kill Mama first. Despite her mother’s vague but urgent warning that she has no idea who she’s dealing with, Girl touches down in Golden: a bleak, run-down city resembling a ghost town. Judging from the reluctant way she wields her hatchet to fend off a handsy drunkard at the local watering hole, it’s clear that Girl doesn’t want to be violent – but she has to be, if she’s going to make it out of this town alive.

Shrugging off nosy locals, Girl finds out her father’s address and heads over to “make things right.” After evading the sinister scrutiny of the local Sheriff (Mickey Rourke), she arrives at the house and shouts her father’s name, voice cracking under the weight of what she’s about to do. But when he doesn’t answer, she goes looking for him… and finds him in the garage, bound and bloody. Somebody has already murdered him.

As the details of her father’s murder unfold, the viewer is dragged down a bewildering path of questions that only lead to more questions, which Girl endures with weary solemnity. The only softness we get to see from her is during her first meeting with Charmer (none other than Chad Faust himself) at the laundromat, where she goes to wash her father’s blood off her shirt. Following some disjointed flirtation, a revelatory moment between the two quickly makes clear that there’s absolutely no room for tenderness in this town. And once the action starts, Girl doesn’t get to breathe until the final minutes of the movie. As the only actor who remains onscreen for the near-entirety of the film, Thorne threads the film together with sophistication and versatility.

By contrast, Rourke’s delivery is consistently menacing, underscored by an inexplicable craving for control that bleeds through in every detail, from his gravelly voice and lumbering gait to his sly, unflinching expressions. But Faust’s performance is arguably the most noteworthy of the three. Talk about a quintessential horror character! High-octane and jester-esque, Faust establishes Charmer’s screen presence with an unwavering grasp of precisely what makes a character creepy.

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Acting prowess aside, Girl is not without its pitfalls. The characters are never called by real names – only vague titles and nicknames such as Barkeep and Town Drunkard, lending to an eery sense that these people are trapped in a time loop where, as the Sheriff (and former preacher) coldly speculates in one particularly gruesome scene, ‘God isn’t watching over them.’ Like ghosts, they speak almost exclusively in contextless vagaries that only make sense later on – rendering them one-dimensional and bland. I do wish these characters, whose presence ends up being vital to Girl’s survival later on, were given more humanizing back stories. Meanwhile, Sheriff and Charmer, though wicked, don’t have compelling motives other than “money.” And the feminist in me can’t help but resent the semi-pornographic presentation of Thorne, in both wardrobe and choreography. But hey, if the hot female lead isn’t baring her midriff while being chased by a murderer, is it even a horror film?

Save for this handful of exhausted horror cliches and flat side characters, one can at least appreciate Girl for its more crafty components. Theater nerds will appreciate the Tennessee Williams-esque monologues sprinkled throughout the film – and for the music buffs, Dillon Baldassero’s original score is uniquely beguiling.

Overall, Girl is both an impressive directorial debut for Faust, and yet another bragging right for Thorne and Rourke to add to their repertoires. This could even be the role to give Thorne her first Oscar. After all this Girl has accomplished, I’d say it’s about time.

Girl will hit select theaters on Friday, November 20th , followed by video-on-demand Tuesday, November 24th in the U.S., courtesy of Screen Media Films.

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