Nicolas Gessner’s madly titled The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane may well be the darkest coming-of-age story to have ever been made. No wonder that 14-year-old Jodie Foster was given the lead role of Rynn, and no wonder Martin Sheen was put somewhere in there too – with the mere task of making her life that little bit harder every time he visits. Writer Laird Koenig adapts his own book and comes up with a screenplay that is as close as we could ever get to a mystery novel. His enigmatic characters and their eccentric aura are transferred from page to screen intact – the writer seems to have compromised none of his original ideas and to have kept the atmosphere of his story exactly the same. Hilariously dark and different to any other coming-of-age mystery thriller I’ve had the chance to see, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane might well make up its very own genre.
Read at Unsung Films: Badlands, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.
Rynn (Jodie Foster) is turning 13 today – which means all hell breaks loose. And although she was hoping to have her cake and eat it, Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), the village’s pervert, decides to trick or treat her. She eventually manages to get rid of him, but his manic mother comes barging in the next morning, asking all sorts of pestering questions. A policeman closely follows and a magician with his bicycle and cane soon befriends her. Some of these people annoy her way too much, so she ends up killing them. Others, she loves, and lets live. Some she buries, some she turns into wax statues. Some truly frighten her and others just pose a threat to her nest. Either way, it’s what she has to do. She’d certainly wish for life to be easier, but since it’s not, she’ll have to play the game of surviving and aim to win it.
The dialogue we’re exposed to here is so 1970s, that very soon after the film begins, it becomes obvious that The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane could have not been written, read or filmed during any other time. There is only one decade that will allow for this kind of quirky individual, dry sarcasm and underlying insanity, and it’s the time that brought us Badlands, Harold and Maude, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, among so many wild others – the ‘70s. In the 1970s − as well as in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane − madness seems to be all around, and murder is not so much a crime, as a fun fact; a dirty little secret, if you will. And even a necessity at times.
One of the things that make Nicolas Gessner’s film crazier than most ‘70s killing sprees, is that it’s a 13-year-old girl murdering everybody. This, alone, should disturb us – but it doesn’t. Because all the people that die by Jodie Foster’s hands – or rather, in Jodie Foster’s house – had it coming. We don’t know these people that well, but what we do know about them would certainly make us want to kill them too (perhaps not us now, but us in the ‘70s). They are intrusive, harassing, irritating and arrogant, self-involved and out-of-touch. We should be disturbed every time someone dies in the little girl’s house down the lane, but all we can really find in us to do is cheer for her. We don’t disapprove of what she does, we’re just taken aback with how mature and matter-of-fact about it all she is.
A great little touch in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is that we never get to meet the person behind this master plan – the real hero of the story. Rynn’s father seems to have orchestrated it all before walking out of the house and into the unknown. Now, little Rynn has a nice home, money to get by indefinitely, a decent sized yard to bury the bodies of those who bother her, and a secure strategy to carry on living freely, as though her poet father was indeed in his study working; translating some Russian poetry or smoking his pipe. Laird Koenig’s story begins after its protagonist dies – leaving his daughter in charge of continuing his tale and telling it, in her very own, special way.
Watch the trailer for The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane here:
Watch The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane – the full movie – here: