Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century is a look back at the weirdest, most memorable, and most off center movies of the 20th century. From head turning horror to oddball science fiction this column examines the films that will leave a lasting impression for centuries to come.
It has been hotly debated about whether or not The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a proper horror movie. A thirteen year old girl lives on her own in a xenophobic small town where bigotry and pedophilia is a normal way of life. It may not contain the common tenets of the genre, but it sounds pretty horrific to me. Directed by Nicolas Gessner and written by Laird Koenig, the story or Rynn Jacobs unfolds in the coastal town of Wells Harbor. Who is this girl? Where is her family? What is her secret? This week’s strange and fantastic tale explores the violations and the wickedly cool demeanor of 1976’s The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.
Like a classic horror movie, the film begins on Halloween night as the very young Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) is relaxing and celebrating her thirteenth birthday by herself. This might seem a bit depressing, but she seems fine with it. However, the audience does not have long to dwell on her lonely party because her peace is quickly disrupted by Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen). Frank Hallet is her landlady’s son and he barges in like he owns the place. He is overly familiar and has no regard for her personal space. He shamelessly makes advances, but she is able to dismiss him before he can cause her harm. This is not the only violation of personal space she encounters. Frank’s mother Cora is the landlady and has no respect for the tenants leasing the home. Cora also enters the home uninvited. Cora moves the furniture and wants to control the room placement. She then threatens Brynn when she voices her annoyance. Through all of this, Rynn keeps her composure while holding steady to her story that her father is home, but too busy to come downstairs.
Rynn’s dark secret is two-fold. Her father has killed himself and set her up to live by herself. Rynn’s other secret is that she poisoned and killed her abusive mother. Orphaned, Rynn’s situation leaves her vulnerable. The Hallet family has proven they have no regard for her boundaries or rights as a human. The only ones concerned for her are a kindly police officer and his nephew Mario. They come from a family of Italian immigrants, a fact which is constantly mentioned in a derogatory manner by the Hallet’s because they are bigoted scum. Italian friends aside, no one else seems to care.
This adds to the mystery surrounding Rynn. Rynn never acts vulnerable. She is calm, cool, and clever in the face of danger. She is very mature and has a grasp on her feelings and human nature. This makes her kind of badass, but also a little scary. She acts her age around Mario, a teenage magician who protected her when Frank broke in and murdered her pet hamster. In love with Mario, she confesses her dark secrets with the tranquility of someone talking about the weather. This sets us for the ending for her deadly confrontation with Frank.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a memorable film for many reasons. Jodie Foster gives a fantastic performance as a strong and powerful little girl. The movie’s heroine is a killer with simple motivations, she is just trying to survive. The film is an interesting character study in feminism, autonomy, and the vulnerability of children. Rynn’s independence makes her an outlier in the town. Her gender, age, and religion make her an instant target to those who would objectify and abuse her. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is currently streaming on Shudder. Dress up like a magician and watch this film by yourself.
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