Greetings again from the darkness. The feature film debut of writer/director Anne Hamilton may cause Aesop to turn over in the grave, but it also supports the adage that desperate times call for desperate measures. Just how desperate is really the point here, and the moral line in the sand is drawn by an 11 year old girl named Gitty (short for Gertrude).
Gitty (an outstanding Peyton Kennedy) lives on a farm with her pregnant mother Sarah (Marci Miller), bullying brother Martin (Gavin MacIntosh), and beloved father Abe (Kip Pardue). Gitty is the kind of kid who loves stories with happy endings, has a pet chicken named Happy, and loves exploring the surrounding countryside with her friends … a dried water well, abandoned house, and lighting bugs are all part of their daily adventures. Only a remote silo is considered off-limits per her father.
It’s the 1980’s and times are tough for family farms. Making ends meet is incredibly challenging and the sagging economy has resulted in many sell-offs of generational farms and the subsequent suicides of farmers who simply can’t face the failure. Gitty blindly trusts her dad when he promises they won’t lose their farm. Doubt only enters her mind when she discovers a battered man (Richard Schiff) in business attire locked in that off-limits silo. The captive man tells her not to tell her dad, and instead asks her to bring food and books. Even an 11 year old cloaked in innocence begins to suspect something isn’t right.
We see the story unfold through the eyes of Gitty, and her fantasies, dreams and visions remind us just how the world looks to a kid. Her openness, curiosity and imagination all act as a kind of sixth sense that lead to the judgment of a child … what is right and what is wrong. Knowing Gitty is the source of our insight helps explain the near cartoonish evil perpetrated by Martin – an overanxious kid who sees himself as some type of “warrior” (an image bestowed by the mysterious Vera). Zuleikha Robinson plays Vera in the mold of a fairy tale witch influencing others … in this case, Gitty’s dad … to do her dirty work.
The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Wyatt Garfield, and at various times recalls Pan’s Labyrinth, The Fall, and the camera work of Terrence Malick. Gitty’s character is easily compared to Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, but her “Honest” Abe dad is no Atticus Finch. Richard Schiff is excellent as the captive man, while Peyton Kennedy reminds of a young Elle Fanning (very high praise indeed). Kids have an amazing ability to see the black and white of right and wrong despite all the extraneous noise going on in their young uncorrupted heads. It’s a shame it all turns to gray as we grow older. It’s a nice first film from Ms. Hamilton.
watch the trailer: