Writer/director Nicole Riegel’s Holler focuses on a bright teen and her older brother who are barely scraping by in a small Ohio town where jobs have dried up as factories closed. The pair are trying to get by selling aluminum cans and scrap metal they find in dumpsters but the water in their home has been shut off and they are on the verge of eviction. A scrapper they sell to recruits them for his illegal operation, raiding the empty factories in the area for metal. It is a rough, dangerous life but they have little choice.
Ruth (Jessica Barden) is smart, makes good grades but has a rebellious streak that gets her in trouble. Her brother Blaze (Gus Halper) is her guardian since their jailed mother (Pamela Adlon) is addicted to opioids. He wants Ruth to leave to go to college, and is willing to do nearly anything give her a chance at a better life. Ruth is less sure about leaving.
British actress Jessica Barden is about ten years older than the character she plays but her age works in the part because of Ruth’s hard life. The story is semi-autobiographical in that it brings the director back to Ohio and the small town life she herself escaped.
This is a realistic, unblinking view from life at the bottom of the socioeconomic strata, but Holler is mercifully free of the poverty porn found in some films of this type. It tells some hard truths about a town devastated by off-shored industries, a place where the only way to have a chance at life is to leave. Despite that, Holler is a hopeful film, focused on the bond between brother and sister.