The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
- Jodie Foster as Rynn Jacobs
- Martin Sheen as Frank Hallet
- Scott Jacoby as Mario
- Alexis Smith as Mrs. Hallet
- Mort Shuman as Officer Miglioriti
An unusual thriller/mystery, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane benefits from building direction that slowly reveals darkness and a mature performance from a young Jodie Foster.
In the seaside town of Wells Harbor, Maine, a young girl named Rynn Jacobs celebrates her thirteenth birthday alone in her father’s large house. Rynn is an independent and extremely mature girl who is self-reliant( she regularly collects money from a safe deposit box and learns from home) and is regularly seen without any parental figure. No one knows where her father is and Rynn when asked tells them that he is either away or busy with his poetry writing. These suspicious action surrounding Rynn, who appears to enjoy being by herself and providing for herself, arouse the interest of many people. Chief among these is Frank Hallet, the adult son of the landlady, who is a predatory man with a sick fascination for young girls. He pesters young Rynn who drives him away with her excuses. Soon enough the bossy and snotty Mrs. Hallet comes knocking and is desperate to know where the girl’s father is. Wanting to be alone and angry at those who intrude, Rynn tries to get rid of the woman who won’t leave. Mrs. Hallet wants to collect something she left in the cellar and despite the warnings of Rynn enters it, only to find something shocking and accidentally knocks the wedge that keeps the door open and fatally injures herself. Rynn just goes about her business, but soon realises that she must get rid of evidence that could put her in trouble with the authorities. Luckily, she encounters teenager Mario, an amateur magician who takes a liking to the mysterious girl. Helping her dispose of evidence and the body, Mario is puzzled but entranced by Rynn, and she despite always being alone, likes his company. Yet Rynn is guarding a much bigger secret than anyone imagined and as the neighbours become more curious about her( in particular the creepy Frank and inquisitive officer Miglioriti), we see just what she is willing to do to retain her solidarity and the depths of her capabilities.
On the directing front, Nicolas Gessner balances both intrigue and mystery in an unfussy yet beneficial way that draws you into the strange little story at play. He adeptly and astutely doesn’t play to mystery clichés too much and successfully throws in moments of unexpectedness that you don’t see coming. Gessner knows when to reveal just enough to keep us dangling, before keeping us at a distance to further the enigma surrounding Rynn and her secret. As much as The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a mystery, it’s also something of an unusual coming of age. Rynn is a girl who thinks and acts like she’s a lot older, yet is not there yet and still doesn’t understand certain things that a grown up would. This in turn adds to the dichotomy of the character as she is oddly innocent during various parts, and then complicated and perhaps not there emotionally in others. There are a few stretches that may have benefited from a bit of trimming, but all in all, The Little Girl Who Live Down the Lane has good pacing that keeps us invested and startled by what we discover. The often bouncy score purposely acts in opposition to the creepy nature of the film to marvellous effect. And when the sparse score isn’t present(which is for quite a few important parts) the film gains an upper hand on the viewer as without the music, we are made to be more curious about what unravels and in particular what Rynn is really up to.
Making a huge impression and one of the film’s best assets is a young Jodie Foster as the self-reliant Rynn, who is much more than what she seems. With her angelic face and mature demeanor, Foster strikes the perfect balance in the role: Rynn appears so innocent yet mysterious and we never quite know what to make of her as she continues to assert that her father is away in order to keep her independent living. Foster never lets us forget that the character is still a child, despite her grown up actions and that somewhere in her mind she isn’t emotionally mature for adulthood. The sense of ambiguity in her work lends itself well to the performance and Jodie Foster even at a young age, shows the depths of her talents with a complex, strangely sympathetic and strikingly mature portrayal of a girl who isn’t as wholesome as her looks would have you believe. In the part of the sexual predator who takes an interest in Rynn, Martin Sheen makes your skin crawl with his performance that really knows how to unnerve you with a twisted grin here or a sleazy glance there. It shows off his talent as an actor and how damn effective he can be. Scott Jacoby makes for an amiable companion for Rynn who she starts to trust, even though he doesn’t quite know what to make of the girl and her actions. In the small but memorable part of the ill-fated Mrs. Hallet, Alexis Smith is cutting and opinionated before her eventual demise due to her nosiness. Mort Shuman is probably the only other person in the film that really has a caring side as he watches out for Rynn yet can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong.
A mystery that takes quite a few different paths and knows when to wrong foot the audience, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is strange yet intriguing film making that fills the screen with tension and confined space, while showcasing the exceptional talent of Jodie Foster.