Holler Movie Review
In Holler, a teenage girl vies for college while illegally scrapping for metal in a fading industrial town, a description that betrays the subtly powerful depiction of not just a town but a nation in decay.
Jessica Barden delivers a terrific performance as Ruth, a rough-and-tumble girl who also has the smarts to break free of her circumstances. Her brother Blaze (Gus Halper) seems to know it better than she does, as he knows his own limitations. Another character at play: the town itself, based on writer/director Nicole Riegel’s hometown of Jackson, Ohio, painted in grays and browns and rusts and that bleakly sputters along as if on its final gyrations of life.
I almost began this review by describing Holler as nondescript--because on its surface this is a little film about a teenager trying to decide what to do with her life--but the definition of nondescript is “lacking distinctive or interesting features or characteristics.” Pay attention and Riegel’s characters and setting are nothing but distinctive, pulsing with a low-level and far-from-glamorous energy that ricochet and scrape off each other in compelling fashion.
Take Hark, played by Austin Amelio, a fascinating, drawn-out man who has found success in a place frothing from failure. In a lesser film, Hark would hover around the edges of the story, but in Holler, Riegel makes him an unsuspecting force, both a mentor and antagonist and perhaps other things as well. Amelio, for his part, is a scene stealer.
What holds Holler back is that, at its core, it’s a movie about a girl finding her way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but countless indies have taken the same beat; Riegel isn’t able to shake the feeling that this is yet another little indie drama that, as well made as it is, is easy to forget. The stronger play is as a crime thriller, even if the crime of stealing scrap metal from abandoned businesses isn’t your typical, cinematic subject matter. When Riegel ends the story in the way she does, Holler feels too much like so many other indie films.
Well acted and told with heart, Holler is a moving drama that at first defies its indie trappings before ultimately succumbing to them. Worth seeing, even if it never fully breaks through.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.