Electrick Children is a modern-day fairytale which blends religious fundamentalism with rock’n’roll hedonism, perhaps not seamlessly, but rather enjoyably all the same.
Rachel, played by Julia Garner, lives within a strict Mormon community – even tape players are prohibited, except for religious purposes such as the recording of an interview about her beliefs and confessions on the occasion of her fifteenth birthday. Yet within this confined upbringing we see that Rachel has developed something of a spark – not so much a rebellious streak, but a boldness and a curiosity. She finds the tape player, as well as a distinctive blue tape, on which she encounters a cover version of ‘Hanging On The Telephone‘.
Writer and director Rebecca Thomas does an astute job of showing the young girl falling hopelessly and unabashedly in love with the music of an era gone by as she holds the prohibited technology to her ear and sways to a brand new sound. In fact, her pure and emotive reaction to the music feels almost akin to a spiritual awakening – so it’s a surprising confession when she admits her belief that listening to the forbidden music has resulted in her pregnancy.
Her parents, played by Cynthia Watros and Billy Zane, place the blame with her equally innocent older brother, Mr. Will (Liam Aiken), banishing him from the Mormon community and arranging for Rachel’s immediate marriage to another boy. Sticking to her immaculate conception story, Rachel runs away to Las Vegas in search of the man singing on the tape, with her exiled brother unintentionally coming along for the ride in the back of her getaway vehicle.
Once the pious pair hit the bright lights of Sin City, we are treated to an amusing succession of fish-out-of-water style scenarios: Rachel’s first encounter with a black man, her first experience of being ID’d at a club, her fateful meeting with a group of teenage rockers. Thomas might veer a little close to the obvious with the new-found acquaintances indulging in a drunken game of ‘Never Have I Ever…’ but the tenderness and novelty of the world experienced through Rachel’s eyes proves to be remarkably forgiving.
Baffled by the heavy metal music scene she encounters whilst looking for her pop-rock singer, Rachel strikes up an unlikely alliance with a rebellious rich kid played by the lesser-known Culkin brother, Rory. Culkin is undoubtedly in his element as spaced-out rocker Clyde, and his initial goofiness quickly develops into a sweet affection as the two gravitate towards each other as lost souls, albeit in very different ways.
Thomas makes good use of the recurring tape recorder motif; its clunking, retro mechanics are one of a range of well-placed stylistic choices which gives her début feature an unmistakably indie feel. Whilst the poignant culture clashes are later traded for what feels like slightly contrived plot points, there remains an underlying tone of magical realism which goes some way in excusing this film of its many transgressions. Electrick Children is a delightfully original bit of storytelling, with enchanting leads who make it well worth a watch.
Electrick Children is released in UK cinemas on 13th July, take a look at our interview with director Rebecca Thomas here.