Actor-turned-director Chad Faust‘s feature debut couldn’t have a more generic title. The idea behind it is that its lead protagonist could be a stand-in for any number of troubled youths from anywhere in the USA that suffered neglect or abuse. Kids that were forced to grow up too soon from the years of shouldering adult responsibilities. Girl refers to the unnamed protagonist that finds herself in over her head when she returns to her hometown with revenge in mind. It’s never quite as meaty or complex as the intent, but Faust’s debut does offer up an engaging enough neo-noir thriller anchored by strong performances.
Girl (Bella Thorne) never got to know her father. He walked out on her when she was six, but not before beating her mother to the point of inflicting permanent disability and pain—having cared for her mother ever since, Girl harbors severe resentment towards dad. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from dad promising to kill Girl’s mother. She embarks on a quest to confront her father and end his life, only when she arrives in his rural small town, she discovers someone beat her to the punch. Running afoul of the local Sheriff (Mickey Rourke), Girl will uncover dangerous secrets about her family that threaten her very survival.
A tabloid regular, Thorne’s preceding reputation likely plays a huge factor in expectations going into this neo-noir thriller. Perhaps she channels that into her character, but Girl marks her best performance to date by a mile. This femme fatale exudes pure rage, making her a formidable foe when standing up to the sleazy Sheriff and the even creepier Charmer (Faust). Girl may excel at wielding a tomahawk, but it’s her complete lack of tact and finesse that makes the character so interesting. In a town where locals are hostile and women traveling alone make for easy prey for men like Charmer and Sheriff, Girl’s awkward ability to stomp and punch her way into everyone’s business makes for a refreshing change of pace. It’s even more so when it’s at her detriment, which is nearly always the case. While Rourke nails a character type he’s played many times before, he’s nearly upstaged by Faust as the aggressive loose cannon.
This trio of actors, along with Faust’s confident direction, propels the revenge thriller forward when the narrative’s over simplicity could’ve derailed it. There are shocking reveals for Girl to confront, adding icky implications and thrilling conflict to the fold. Still, it’s a straightforward revenge tale without much depth. It’s also prone to clunky dialogue.
Bursts of brutal violence, a raw lead performance, and quick pacing ensure this threadbare but engaging exploration of the gritty underbelly of rural life entertains. Girl may get put through the physical and emotional wringer, but Faust eschews neo-noir convention by weaving in a thread of hope. Though it ultimately amounts to a routine revenge thriller, Faust coaxes impressive acting from his leads and demonstrates skillful promise for future efforts.
Girl opens in select theaters November 20 and on VOD platforms November 24, 2020.