Tag Archives: Thomasin McKenzie

Liz Garbus’s Lost Girls

There’s a certain melancholy defeat in viewing a film where missing and murdered people’s cases are met with lethargy, inaction and suspicious reluctance by the authorities, but in the same token they’re important films to watch as they shed spotlights on gross miscarriages of justice and impart that it can’t continue to go on like this. Liz Garbus’s Lost Girls uses a sobering tone, moody visuals and a deep intentional focus on the victims of the mysterious Long Island serial killer as human beings rather than ‘murdered prostitutes’ or statistical notches on the media’s callous belt. Around 2010 in rural New York State a serial killer struck, dumping bodies along a desolate stretch of road and leaving few clues save for vague ties to a nearby gated community that may be harbouring secrets. For struggling single mother Mari (Amy Ryan) this is a different kind of nightmare as her eldest daughter was in the area around this time and is still somewhere out there missing. Together with her two other daughters (Oona Laurence and Thomasin Mackenzie) she launches a fierce personal investigation into the matter when the lead detective (a smarmy Dean Winters) and even the police commissioner himself (Gabriel Byrne in introvert mode) seem to be willfully dragging their asses. It’s a sad story because Mari’s life is already tough enough; she’s severely low income, on her own as a mother and mental illness runs deeply within her family, already blooming in her youngest daughter. None of this makes the situation any better but she has grit, resolve and a desire for redemption that Ryan infuses in her performance nicely. The best work in the film goes to Thomasin Mackenzie as her middle daughter though, she’s an actress who made a big splash in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace a couple years ago and once again delivers a powerful, understated yet rawly emotional performance. Because this is based on a real story that was never properly concluded there is a sense of heart wrenching, open ended pain here. The police investigation was never carried out properly, their response time to her daughter calling 911 the night she disappeared was unforgivable and as a collective result a heinous serial killer went uncaught. You’ll leave the film feeling sick and depressed, but it’s important that we pay attention because this shit probably happens every day. There’s a strong desire here to shirk the media’s portrayal of victims as deserving it because of their lifestyle and showing them as meaningless numbers in tv reports, while the families are out their mourning the human beings they remember so dearly. It’s in that the film finds it’s one ray of light, an important sentiment to take away. Not an easy watch, but perhaps the publicity now given to this tragic case will one day lead to the arrest of those responsible. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace

Debra Granik‘s Leave No Trace is the most important film about post traumatic stress disorder I’ve ever seen, and a potent, timely and very frank father daughter story that will leave you reeling in the final frames. Not that it’s cloying or melodramatic either. On the contrary, Granik, who made waves with Winter’s Bone some years back, chooses to tell her story in a spare, hushed, realistic manner that at first seems to keep you at a bit of a distance, but before you realize it you’re drawn right in. This immersive story sees Ben Foster as a haunted veteran suffering from PTSD who has chosen to raise his daughter (Thomasin Mackenzie) in the wilderness of Oregon, just outside Portland, living off of the land and keeping mostly to themselves. This is a haven until social services gets wind of their situation and makes every effort to relocate and integrate them back into society, something which Foster’s character just can’t seem to do anymore. Moving from county to county, always on the run from something he can’t even put into words, holding onto his daughter because she’s the only one he has left, this is the life of someone who has been broken and forgotten by most, and it’s tough to see. I read that in pre-production Foster and Granik workshopped the script to remove almost forty percent of the dialogue, to let the silences in between words do the talking. A wise move. Him and Mackenzie are so good you believe them as family for real, seemingly tuned into each other on an elemental level, these are the two best performances I’ve seen from anyone so far this year. They meet many folks on their journey along the Pacific Northwest belt of Oregon and Washington (cue lush,

gorgeous cinematography captured by Michael McDonough), and the one running theme that comes across is compassion. Everyone they meet, from the Oregon social services bureau to an RV park full of quiet, peaceful folk, everyone shows them kindness and tries to understand their plight as best as they can. I’d like to believe that human beings are inherently good, and clearly Granik shares this hope here, with an intimate realism in every character interaction and the direction to anchor every actor, from the two leads right down to the bit players, in something believable and very much human the way we’re used to outside the cinema. PTSD is not in the forefront here either, not used as an emotional device or explored in an analytical manner, it’s subtly hinted at and the most we ever see is the mannerisms playing at the corners of Foster’s eyes, and his blunt inability to exist in a societal way anymore, which eventually drives a heartbreaking wedge between him and his daughter, laid bare in an ending scene that affects to the core and is the gold standard of what acting could, and should be. Other fine work can be found all over in the people they meet along their way, including a kindly farmer (Jeff Kober) who runs a homestay program, a sympathetic ex army medic () and the owner of a Washington RV Park (the great Dale Dickey, who also stole scenes in Winter’s Bone). This film starts out slow, comes on strong and the end will leave you tearful, ponderous about the situation of so many in their country afflicted by this condition, hopeful that family bonds can provide a modicum of healing, and altogether fulfilled in terms of story and atmosphere. One of the year’s best so far.

-Nate Hill