The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane Review
When Lords Bridge, Scarman and Fraser were presented with the case taken by Victoria Gillick on determining the competency of a child who has not yet reached adulthood, they could simply have pointed her in the direction of The Little Girl Who Lived Down The Lane. Like a nightmarish endgame for the Gillick test, Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) is living in a big old house that she and her father have leased from Mrs Hallet (Alexis Smith). At least, Rynn speaks of her father but when anyone calls on him, he is either locked in his study, where he is not to be disturbed, upstairs sleeping or in New York meeting his publisher. The only sign that he exists at all, or did so, is a book of his poetry on the mantle piece. Rynn does her best to cover for his absence but people start getting suspicious nonetheless. Officer Miglioriti (Mort Shuman) calls on Rynn several times but never once sees her father. Nor does Mrs Hallet. But no matter these interruptions, Rynn carries on. And were it not for Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), she would do...
It's easy to say that they don't make movies like they used to. There are times when that's entirely understandable, particularly when the average kid can, with a home computer, edit, score and produce effects to a higher standard than those movies that were spoofed so wickedly on MST3K. Space Pirates or Pumaman, anyone? However, it's an honest thing to say about The Little Girl Who Lived Down The Lane, which has a scale so small as to be threatened with being laughed off a movie set and into an off-Broadway theatre. Adapted from his own novel by Laird Koenig, The Little Girl Who Lived Down The Lane is a smart little thriller in which Rynn Jacobs defends her home (and herself) from those who would want to take it from her. The literal meaning of this is in Mrs Hallet threatening to evict Rynn and her father shortly after they move in, all due to her dislike of Rynn's attitude. In spite of Rynn screaming, "My house!" at Mrs Hallet, she persists in these threats. However, its meaning is also in Rynn having to defend her body against Frank Hallet, who takes an unhealthy interest in the thirteen-year-old. His trick-or-treating of Rynn sees Hallet not only lingering too long in her house but in how long his hand holds on too hers. Later, Mario (Scott Jacoby) tells how Hallet dragged a couple of young girls into the bushes but that the matter was dealt with quickly by Mrs Hallet, who married off her son to a cocktail waitress to cover up the incident. Against these two Hallets, mother and son, Rynn's independence is tested but they don't anticipate how her quick wit is matched by a willingness to do anything to be left alone.
The risk in writing too much about The Little Girl Who Lived Down The Lane is in giving much of it away. Indeed, it's best that this review saves much of the story and the particular twists in the film for your own viewing of it and turns, instead, to its atmosphere. This viewer came upon the film late on night on television, not only believing that to be the perfect setting for it then but doing so again now. Director Nicolas Gessner stresses this by his setting of the film by firelight, by the sound of a piano concerto playing on her stereo and of Rynn Jacobs padding quietly around her home. But what begins as a drama, in which the audience soon takes in horror, romance and suspense and Gessner soon takes those things typical of home comforts and of security, such as Rynn's closing of the curtains, of the squeak of the wheel in her hamster's cage, of the porch light and of the locked door and turns them against her. As the snow falls, the sun sets and Rynn extinguishes the light on her porch, Gessner draws in what would become staples of the horror genre and as Rynn settles in bed, she hears banging in her kitchen and sees a figure moving in the shadows.
What's particularly worthy of praise is that Gessner does all this without ever sacrificing the film's atmosphere. While he does take his film outside of Rynn's home, he avoids doing it very often, knowing that his film rests on Rynn's defence of herself and of her home. He avoids all the usual traps of thrillers, choosing not to resolve things with gunshots, bloody murders or revenge killings. Instead, it maintains its sense of quiet horror to its very end, even to its study of Jodie Foster's face through the end credits. Even then, it gives nothing away, other than that Rynn Jacobs is still safe in her home.
Reading something about the cuts made to The Little Girl Who Lived Down The Lane, it looks as though Optimum have used the international version of the film rather than the PG-rated cut that was passed for the US. In this, the twenty-one-year-old Connie Foster stood in for her younger sister in a nude scene and while one might think that we might have been palmed off with a somewhat shabby print as a result, that's not at all true. The anamorphic 1.85:1 print is in good condition. There's very little damage that's evident, the picture is sharp and while it may look dark at times, that appears to be intentional, even to colours that are, on the whole, more muted than one might expect for the mid-seventies but which look fine then the film demands it of the disc.
Befitting a film that could work just as well on stage - Laird Koenig has adapted his book for the theatres as well as for cinema - the DD2.0 concentrates on the dialogue above all else. The soundtrack does what it can with the few ambient effects in the film and with its very-much-of-the-time soundtrack, complete with more wah-wah than you could shake in the direction of porno, but it's really all about the dialogue and that sounds fine. However, there are no subtitles.
The only bonus material is a Trailer (1m58s).