Horror and fantasy film have long been a birthplace for emerging talent. Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Kathryn Bigelow, and Gareth Edwards – all cut their teeth in genre cinema before moving onto other things. Director Anne Hamilton is in fine company, and her new film American Fable emerges from this august tradition, trailing references aplenty. Read on…
The filmmaker began her career with an internship with Terrence Malick, and the influence of the Malickian aesthetic is abundantly evident in the film’s burnished golden afternoons and navy blue nightscapes. Ms. Hamilton has an eye for beauty and her ability to capture the mystery of adolescence, in all of its confusion and power is a genuine marvel. What is less certain in American Fable is the filmmaker’s grasp on her story.
It is the mid-80s, and Reaganomics is taking a heavy toll on rural America. Farmers forced to sell off their land are committing suicide at an alarming rate. Gitty (Peyton Kennedy), trembling on the verge of puberty, lives with her family, who are struggling to keep a hold of their property. Her father Abe (Kip Pardue) is deeply in debt, her mother (Marci Miller) is pregnant, and her brother Martin (Gavin Macintosh) is a budding psychopath. So all is not well in the heartland. When Gitty discovers a mysterious man being held captive in the family silo, events begin to pick up speed, until they approach something resembling a runaway freight train.
Here is where the filmmaker’s inexperience is most evident. The film piles on the references, everything from Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth to a laboured interpretation of W.B. Yeats. This conflagration of fairytale, gothic fantasy and cornpone drama, breast buds to black horned riders combines into a singular concoction. Not everything succeeds. Some plot twists strain credibility, and the acting varies widely in style, from understated and naturalistic to the gonzo gothic side. But there is a larger issue at stake, namely that women filmmakers need and deserve the right to fail. To try things out, make honest mistakes and learn in the process. American Fable is not a perfect work, but the scale of its ambition, and its visual mastery are terrific. Where Ms. Hamilton goes from here, I will be very interested to see. — Dorothy Woodend
Team #MOTW Comments:
Susan Wloszczyna: Magic and menace collide amid lush Midwest cornfields in first-time feature director Anne Hamilton’s stylish gothic fairy tale, driven by familial secrets and lies as seen through the eyes of gutsy 11-year-old Gitty — memorably played by newcomer Peyton Kennedy.
Betsy Bozdech: Stylish and moody, this heartland-set thriller features a strong performance from young star Peyton Kennedy. While the plot is fairly far-fetched, certain elements of the film are reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth: A girl retreats from a harsh world into a more fantastical space, and darkness is always close at hand. It will make you curious to see what director Anne Hamilton does next.
Anne Brodie: Anne Hamilton’s Gothic farm noir American Fable is an unexpected treat. Mixing noir, fantasy, character study and crime and horror genres and tying them to an endearing eleven year old girl is genius. She has the least power in a deadly family game of survival, but her decision to do right gives her strength. Its mood is reminiscent of the moody, rural zombie horror Maggie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and the family dissolution drama The Witch. Solid performances across the board with kudos to Peyton Kennedy as the girl, Richard Schiff as a man imprisoned in the family silo, and Gavin McIntosh as the bloodthirsty brother.
Liz Whittemore: Labeling American Fable a horror film is misleading in the traditional sense. It is most certainly a fantasy thriller. Set in rural America during the Reagan era, the film is beautifully shot and boasts a haunting score. Our young ingenue, played with stunning maturity by Peyton Kennedy, is torn between her own morality and grown up financial forces she does not yet understand. The most frightening aspect of the script lies within Kennedy’s on-screen older brother, grasping at power through sociopathic mind games and violence. The clever use of fables and dreams is what shines brightest in Anne Hamilton’s first film. American Fable will take you on a journey through one family’s desperate attempt to maintain their standard of survival and the daughter who holds the key to their escape.
Leba Hertz: A compelling story good for young and old adults about a farm girl whose family is struggling to stay afoot during the Reagan years. She encounters a man (Richard Schiff who no matter how much he tries one can only conjure up Toby on the West Wing) who is living in a silo. What he stands for may be unscrupulous but he is integral to the life lessons and decisions the girl must make.
Jennifer Merin: Anne Hamilton’s American Fable is an ambitious and stylish noir fantasy thriller about a young girl who tries to do the right thing under very challenging circumstances. Conceptually rich and beautifully shot, this first feature presents the unique vision of a woman director to watch.
Title: American Fable
Director: Anne Hamilton
Release Date: February 17, 2017
Running Time: 96 minutes
Principal Cast: Peyton Kennedy, Richard Schiff, Kip Pardue
Screenwriter: Anne Hamilton
Distributor: IFC Midnight
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Thelma Adams, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Perri Nemiroff, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf, Dorothy Woodend
Written by Dorothy Woodend, edited by Jennifer Merin, social media by Sandra Kraisirideja