Fantastic Fest Review: Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl

Gothic conventions revamped for coming-of-age chiller

Tangled webs woven in Gothic chiller Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl

Gothic is not a period or a color scheme. It's a sensibility, a quiet sense of doom, and it's fair to say that Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe would feel a twang of morbid recognition at the dark cloud hanging over Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl.

With the Carter/Reagan election and the economic crash of the Seventies rumbling off-screen, Adele (Erin Wilhelmi, The Knick) is dispatched by her unloving mother to tend to her shut-in aunt Dora (Frances Eve). Her arrival at her dusty and dark new home is scarcely welcome, with her sole communication with her new mistress being hand-written notes and lists of dos and (mostly) don'ts shoved under the door. No wonder the meek and mousy Adele becomes fascinated by Beth (Quinn Shephard), seemingly the only other teen girl in town. In turn, the feisty Beth is eager to know this visitor, and get a look inside the mysterious mansion that's the center of so much town rumor and legend.

This is clapboard Gothic, all shadows and silhouettes against faded whitewashed walls, every line delivered as an ominous whisper. Beth revels in this, calling Adele's life "so Jane Eyre-ish." But where does Adele really fit into this Gothic trope? Is she the poor indentured servant, slaving away with a crazy lady in the attic? Or do she and Beth fulfill a more sinister role? And who exactly is pulling who down the rabbit hole?

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is an undoubted change of tone and pace for director A. D. Calvo, who moves away from the more conventional supernatural jump scares of his earlier films, like The Midnight Game and House of Dust. The inevitable third-act twist into the macabre and eerie could have played to those more simplistic tendencies, but instead he builds upon the tone of desiccated foreboding created by his female leads.

They are, after all, what is most entrancing here. Calvo (who also scripted) steers away from the conventions of the well-worn good girl/bad girl buddy movie, and instead lets the light of each enhance and accentuate their own shadowy traits. It's in little moments, like Beth's hobby of taking tombstone rubbings, or the way Adele rifles through the housekeeping money, that Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is chillingly captivating.


Fantastic Fest 2016, Sept. 22-29 at the Alamo South Lamar. Tickets and info at www.fantasticfest.com, and follow our ongoing coverage at austinchronicle.com/fantasticfest.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Alamo South Lamar, Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2016, Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl

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