Movie Review – American Fable
This film reminds me of the recent It Comes At Night. Technically, it should be the other way round since this film was released before It Comes At Night. Both movies center around a child who is in various ways trapped with their families in their homes or the area immediately surrounding. Both have horror elements, which both lean on in the child’s dreams. Both involve the child having a complicated relationship with a non-related adult. Both involve family members turning to murder of other members in their homes. The difference is that writer-director Anne Hamilton in her feature debut isn’t as vague as Trey Edward Shults. She actually provides more context to her characters and the strange and creepy situation in which they find themselves.
Peyton Kennedy (XX) stars as Gertrude Marie Jager or “Gitty.” She’s an 11-year-old girl living on a farm with her father, pregnant mother and older brother. She’s a pretty tough, farm girl. She has a pet chicken named Happy. She rides her bike everywhere. She loves to be told stories, especially from her father who frequently tells her fables. She’s very smart. She becomes a master at chess in a very short time, but things change when she discovers a man is being held hostage in a silo on her family’s farm, and she has no clue who is holding the hostage there and why. Yet, she befriends the hostage.
Gavin MacIntosh (The Fosters) co-stars as Martin Jager, the older brother who’s probably 15 or 16. He’s the most likely suspect as to who is holding the man in the silo hostage. Despite being a kid, he acts very much like an adult, a psychopathic adult. It’s very much in contrast to MacIntosh’s much heralded TV character. He fancies himself a warrior and clearly he sees men like the man in the silo as his enemy. Again, despite being a kid, he also has an edgy sex appeal with no qualms about making moves on an older woman.
Richard Schiff (The West Wing) plays Jonathan Miller, the man in the silo. He’s locked inside with an injured leg. Not a lot of information is revealed about Jonathan like what his plans were for the Jager’s farm. Once he realizes that Gitty has no idea what her family is up to, he does what he can to befriend her and get her to help him escape. He tells her stories and he plays chess with her, but his efforts to escape seem lackadaisical at best. It almost seems contrived to drag it out, but there are gaps as to how the hostage situation is being handled, which makes things confusing.
Otherwise, the back-and-forth or tug-of-war between Gitty and her brother Martin is tense and is a sibling rivalry about right-and-wrong as well as loyalty and family that is more compelling than the details of the hostage situation. Those lacking details are noticeable but not insurmountable. The performances from Kennedy and MacIntosh are solid enough to help surmount it.
Hamilton sets her story in the 1980’s during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. I’m sure there’s some commentary to be drawn from this time period on perhaps the state of things today being analogous to then. Hamilton could simply feel that there’s something about that era that’s important to her, or else she just wanted to distance her story from digital technology, which could have solved logistical issues in this movie.
Hamilton seems to also make commentary on the idea of fables. In the film, a character tells the story of “The Lion and the Mouse,” which is one of Aesop’s Fables. In this example, Gitty is supposed to be the mouse and Jonathan is supposed to be the lion. Yet, the way it’s told verbally is slightly different or at least with a different ending. It makes the story not about mercy but cynical and about mistrust. It sets up expectations that this movie will similarly be cynical and about mistrust.
Zuleikha Robinson (Lost) is well-used as Vera, a woman who comes to the aide of the Jager family whose intentions seem good but whose tactics are questionable at best. Marci Miller (Days of Our Lives) unfortunately isn’t as well-used. She’s the pregnant mother, Sarah who is mostly in the background. She may be a bit too young for the role. Kip Pardue (Remember the Titans) who plays Abe, the father to Gitty and Martin, is given an arc to play, but it’s not clear what his fate is in the final frame, but the movie isn’t about him. It’s about his daughter and her ultimate choice.
Not Rated but contains language and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.
Available on DVD / VOD.