Friday, December 30, 2022

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

Another movie that's been sitting on my DVR for a little while and that I'd always wanted to see is The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. I think it was run in October as part of the whole Halloween thing, and while the movie opens up on Halloween, it isn't really a horror movie at all, but more of a quiet thriller.

Jodie Foster, who was 13 at the time she made this movie, plays Rynn Jacobs, a 13-year-old girl living in a rented house in a small seaside town in Maine with her father, who coincidentally seems to be absent all the time. It doesn't take much to figure out that Dad is actually dead, and that Rynn is remarkably independent and mature for her age, and a shockingly good liar, even though pretty much everybody around her seems to suspect that something isn't right. After all, she doesn't go to school, and as mentioned, her father is never around.

Among the people who know something is up and want to talk to Dad is Cora Hallett (Alexis Smith), who owns the house and has rented it out to the Jacobses. Now, she rented it out to them before Dad died, as Dad was apparently able to pay three years' rent up front, as well as leaving Rynn a substantial sum of money that she has in the form of travelers' checks in a safe deposit box in the bank. But Cora unsurprisingly still wants to know what Rynn is up to all day.

Also showing up, and curious about Rynn, is Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen). He's Cora's son, and he has a back story that is hinted at and slowly revealed over the course of the movie, although it's pretty clear from the outset that Frank is a fairly malevolent figure. And just wait and see what he does over the course of the movie! But we're getting ahead of ourselves, and this is something I don't want to give away.

On one of Cora's visits to the house, she's looking for some drinking glasses, and decides to look in the basement, which is accessed via a trap door. On her way back up the stairs, Rynn lets the door hit Cora on the head, killing her! Rynn knows she's in danger of being found out, as in Our Mother's House about a decade earlier, and doesn't want to face the consequences of this until she's an adult at least. But now with Cora dead, Rynn has a whole new set of problems.

Fortunately, she meets an obliging young man who's willing to help. Not Frank, of course, but Mario (Scott Jacoby), who came down with polio as an infant before being able to get the then-new vaccine, and walks with a stick and severe limp as a result. Mario makes some money as a magician doing shows, but as a fellow outcast like Rynn, he feels simpatico with Rynn, which is why he's willing to help her. Of course, he's also willing to get her into bed with him even though she's only 13, in one of the film's more controversial scenes. (Jodie's adult sister was used as a body double.)

Frank misses his mother, which is why he comes back to the house. And he must have found his mother's house keys, since he's able to get in and discover enough evidence to know that there's a pretty horrible truth being hidden. It's a game of cat and mouse between Frank and Rynn.

For a film with a low budget, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is quite a good one. Jodie Foster's character may be a bit grating at times to some people (me included) thanks to all the lies she has to tell, but that's certainly not her fault. And, in this case, the lies are really more necessary than in some films. This is also not a mystery but a suspense, so figuring out pretty quickly tht Rynn doesn't have any parents around and won't isn't an issue -- think of Alfred Hitchcock's dictum about suspense. The producers also did a very good job creating a small town atmosphere by finding a small town in Quebec to substitute for the village in Maine. (Well, except for some of the seaside shots.)

All in all, if you haven't seen The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, it's definitely one you should make it a point to see.

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