This is one of those movies that sold me with the poster. It came up while I was flipping through Netflix and I just had to give it a shot.
Dr. Fonda (Richard Neil) is called in by his old friend Dr. Olivia (Jolene Anderson) to consult on the strange case of Ellie (Savannah Liles), a nine-year-old girl being held at a military base. Fonda meets with Ellie, only to find that she’s held in an interrogation room in a straitjacket and tightly secured to a chair. After a few minutes of speaking with Ellie, Fonda discovers that she is both hyperintelligent to a dangerous degree and an apparent sociopath. It also becomes apparent that she is considered a dangerous anomaly by the Army, who have decided that she cannot be allowed to live if she is incapable of any real human emotion. Her brain is scheduled for vivisection to uncover the secrets of her advanced mind. Determined to save the girl, Fonda tries to prove that she doesn’t have to be a threat before time runs out.
What if Hannibal Lecter was a little girl?
Yeah, that’s definitely the question that the filmmakers started with. I even found a marketing image with Hannibal’s name. Of course, in order to be as intelligent as Hannibal the Cannibal, they had to make her an inhuman mutant. I don’t exactly agree with all of the ways they end up playing that out, but I will say that the set-up gives you all of the creepy images that you think it would.
The performance by Liles is amazing for a child actress. I’m not going to say it’s perfect, but when you consider she was only eleven when filming the role, it’s really great. Even the parts that seem out-of-character in the beginning actually end up becoming relevant later. Richard Neil solidly portrays the principled doctor who is now facing something that he simultaneously can’t comprehend but also understands perfectly. He doesn’t recognize Ellie’s abilities, but he does see that, underneath it all, she still has signs that she is subject to normal human frailties. Far from being the Übermensch that she pretends to be, he thinks Ellie is actually just a little girl putting on an act. The competing ideas of what she is keep going back and forth until the end where we’re actually given a fairly certain answer.
The most notable sequence in the movie is when Fonda challenges Ellie to a game of chess and it is Hitchcock-level tense. At one point I had to remind myself to breathe. There are several moments of perfect suspense in the movie, where you’re not sure what’s about to happen.
Part of that, however, is because we don’t know much of the background to the situation, and that’s one of the negatives of the film: We hardly get anything explained. At the end of the film, you barely know any more than when you started about Ellie. It’s actually kind of frustrating, because we actually end up learning more about Fonda than we do her. That could have been a good use of the long stretches between the tense moments, too, because there is a lot of down time in the film. Some of it is used well, but a lot of it comes off as tedious filler. There’s a reason why Anthony Hopkins was only in 16 minutes of Silence of the Lambs.
Aside from that, the budget for the movie clearly was found in couch cushions. There are only four actors aside from the main three and the majority of the film is just Fonda and Ellie sitting across from each other in a room while the others watch from behind a two-way mirror. The other weird thing is that apparently the movie was supposed to be in black-and-white, but then… wasn’t? Like, a screening of it originally wasn’t in color, then apparently the wide release was. I don’t know why it didn’t stay that way. That would have probably worked well within the structure of the film, too, and covered up how drab the settings and costumes are. Still, for having no money, this is a solid film with a lot of great moments. It’s just that the moments in between them tend to drag.
If you’re a fan of suspense, you’ll probably like the movie. If you’re not, you’ll probably get bored at parts. I will say, the team that made this, Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, look like they’d be able to make a pretty solid film if given the resources. Actually, they already made the short “Stoneheart” for CryptTV, and it’s pretty solid. Check it out if you have like 10 minutes free.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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