AMERICAN FABLE, drama, rated PG-13, The Screen,
If Dr. Victor Frankenstein had made a movie, it might have looked a bit like this. Writer-director Anne Hamilton has assembled various cinematic elements and galvanized them into something resembling a life form: a creature that lurches and speaks, is vaguely menacing, and comes to a sorry end.
Some of the parts she has stitched together are good. At the top of the list is the film’s visual style. Set in Wisconsin farm country, it delivers a rich harvest of gorgeous photography from the camera of Wyatt Garfield. Hamilton worked as an intern for Terrence Malick on and some of the master’s dreamy, lyrical style (and some of his narrative incoherence) clearly rubbed off.
The music is ominous, and the acting is competent, if mostly unremarkable. The story’s central figure is Gitty (Peyton Kennedy), an eleven-year-old tomboy who roams the fields of her father’s farm on her bicycle with her pet chicken, Happy. It’s the Reagan era, and her father, Abe (Kip Pardue), is struggling to hold onto his farm while many around him are losing theirs. Rounding out the family is her pregnant mother, Sarah (Marci Miller), and her sullen, borderline sociopathic brother Martin (Gavin MacIntosh).
As the movie opens, Gitty is heading for a remote silo on the family property that she seems never to have noticed before. Her father stops her with a stern warning: “I’ve told you never to go near that silo!” It sounds a bit like an admonition in a fairy tale, and Hamilton appears to be consciously after some of that flavor here.
Like the damsels in those tales, Gitty just can’t keep away from a forbidden place, and the next time she ventures near the silo, she hears a voice calling to her from within. There’s a man in there. He’s well dressed, well spoken, and his name is Jonathan Winters. (Why Jonathan Winters? Would you name a character Sid Caesar?) And he’s a prisoner. He’s played by Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler to you fans), who brings an elevated level of acting to the table.
Winters is revealed to be a wealthy real-estate speculator who’s been buying up failed farms in the region. It’s never quite clear why or how Abe has kidnapped him, but he is in cahoots with Vera (Zuleikha Robinson), a shadowy villainess out of by way of a Disney movie, with whom he may be having an affair. Gitty befriends Winters and brings him food, books, and a chess set, but she never reports her discovery, either to her family or to the police. Nor, at least at first, does he ask her to.
There are so many loose story ends, inconsistencies, and oddities that it would be exhausting to try to list them all. The worst of these assembled parts is the screenplay. Like the criminal’s “abnormal” brain implanted in Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, it makes a hopeless, inarticulate monster out of this cinematic creature. — Jonathan Richards