Tag Archives: Odessa Young

Fe Fi Fo Fum

The Giant

by Hope Madden

Been a while since I’ve been swimming in the dark. Who knows what nasty things are in there?

It may be a line delivered by high school senior Olivia (Madelyn Cline), but it’s a theme writer/director David Raboy knows how to work.

Somewhere in that steamy summer between youth and adulthood, between the loose ends of rural Southern life and the tidiness of college, an ugliness lurks like a trap to keep you. On the same night as that dark swim, when Olivia and Charlotte (Odessa Young, Shirley) jump in alongside a couple of menacingly boyish buddies, a girl is murdered.

Olivia’s feeling nostalgic, maybe panicked that this next chapter will mean a separation from her closest friend. Charlotte’s preoccupation is hazier and more menacing.

The truth is, the time of year and Charlotte’s impending move have her thinking about—dreaming? remembering?—her mother’s suicide. But then, when the girl is murdered, Charlotte’s ex shows up like he’s back from the dead, himself.

And then another girl dies.

Raboy’s indie drama The Giant plays like the fever dream of someone so wedded to a certain kind of pain that they may submit to it rather than move on. The murders on the periphery, the Malick-esque use of voiceover, the hazy close ups and distorted light combine to create a groggy nightmare, both beautiful and frustrating.

The Giant’s beauty lies not only in Raboy’s intriguing framing and pacing—so thick you feel as if you’re hallucinating—but in the lead performances. Young cuts an enigmatic central figure, a tragedy waiting and possibly willing to happen. Meanwhile, Cline’s innocent and earnest turn is like its own light source in the murky Gothic.

But The Giant is frustrating in its vagueness. The dreamlike dread Raboy creates sometimes takes the place of narrative structure, the elements within his script—the serial killings, the suicide, the partying—create creepiness but they don’t serve a concrete narrative purpose. The film serves any number of potential allegorical objectives, but it never actually tells a story.

As weird as it seems, that isn’t enough to sink the film. The nastiness in those murky waters keeps your interest even without it.


Ms. Jackson, If You’re Nasty


by Hope Madden

I’m not sure which thrilled me more, that Elisabeth Moss was set to portray the great Shirley Jackson, or that Josephine Decker was slated to direct.

If you’re not familiar with Decker, give yourself the gift of her 2014 minor miracle Thou Wast Mild and Lovely. Decker’s languid style seduces you, keeps you from pulling away from her films’ underlying tensions, darkness, sickness. She specializes in that headspace that mixes the story as it is and the story as it’s told, which makes her a fitting guide for Susan Scarf Merrell’s fictionalized account of this slice of Jackson’s life.

Which brings us to Moss, quickly ascending the ranks of “best actors of our generation” into the rarified air of “genius.” Moss has proven time and again that she can inhabit any character with a fearlessness that allows her to disappear and the character to emerge, fully human. Such is the case with the enigmatic, damaged and brilliant Jackson.

Shirley takes us into the period where the already reclusive writer begins work on her novel Hangsaman

This stretch of time coincides with the arrival of some help for Jackson’s husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg). The couple will be opening their home to Stanley’s new teaching assistant (Logan Lerman), and his pregnant wife, Rose (Odessa Young).

The film’s plot follows Jackson’s relationship with Rose, which develops in tandem with her newest manuscript. The friendship unveils unkind truths about power, sexual politics and other uglinesses that Jackson always mined so formidably in her creepiest work.

Decker manipulates the pacing, melancholy and sensuality of her tale beautifully, drawing a stirring performance from Young. But my god, what she gets from Moss and Stuhlbarg.

To witness two such remarkable talents sparring like this, aided by a biting script that offers them ample opportunity to wade into the sickness and dysfunction of this marriage—it’s breathtaking.

The result is dark and unseemly, appropriately angry and gorgeously told—fitting tribute to the author.

Tragedy Purge

Assassination Nation

by Hope Madden

What if a rich white man reclaimed Salem, Mass for ostracized and victimized women by creating an outrageous, violent yarn about our out-of-control, whatever world?

In the case of Sam (son of Barry) Levinson’s latest, a cross between Tragedy Girls and The Purge, the result is the self-conscious, self-righteous and sloppy Assassination Nation.

A cautionary tale about online living, social media saturation, toxic masculinity, mob mentality, rape culture…I’m sorry—where was I? A lot. Levinson’s film is mad about a lot of stuff. And it will empower young women, mainly by filming them braless and wearing shorts that are bound to cause a yeast infection.

Four high school besties (Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra) find themselves unsure if they will survive the night once a hacker shares half the town’s digital secrets with the world. What follows is a vibrant, kinetic spectacle that deserves note if only for its raucous attention to basically anything and everything that might make a teenage girl feel violently self-righteous.

All of it’s empty, of course: lurid and stylish, pseudo-feminist and pretend-woke. Like the opening sequence “trigger warning,” the film promises something it lacks the spine to deliver.

Here’s the point, if there is one: the perils of high school are more horrifying than they were a generation ago. Hell, they’re probably twice as bad as they were two years ago. But high school kids are just as idiotic, self-absorbed, naïve and insecure as they ever were, so things are going badly.

But rather than empathize or provide insight, Assassination Nation offers exploitation and voyeurism. It’s one of those things you can try to get away with by passing it off as culturally relevant, zeitgeist embracing irony. That’s a tactic that might work if you aren’t just cribbing from two more clever and socially aware films where characters wear bras.

Scrape it Off your Shoes

Sweet Virginia

by Hope Madden

Which is a better death—a bullet, or a broken heart? Aah, the neo-noir, always trodding that lonesome, masculine road.

Director Jamie Dagg’s latest effort, the brooding Sweet Virginia, contemplates many of the same bruised musings in many of the old, familiar ways. But between Benjamin and Paul China’s taut script and an ensemble’s powerful performances, you won’t mind.

Jon Bernthal leads the cast as Sam, former rodeo star and current proprietor of small town motel Sweet Virginia. It’s the kind of place where a drifter (Christopher Abbott) might stay, a high school kid (Odessa Young) might take a part-time job, a new widow (Rosemary DeWitt) might find comfort or a femme fatale (Imogen Poots) might find danger.

Bernthal charms playing against type and spilling over with tenderness. His every moment onscreen is abundant with warmth, a curious choice for a hillbilly noir’s male lead, but it pays off immeasurably.

Abbott is his fascinating opposite. Both dark and imposing, Abbott’s Elwood festers and stews, a pot of simmering violence waiting to bubble over. Like Bernthal, Abbott chooses an approach to his character that is nonstandard and, in both instances, carving such believable and unusual men in such a familiar environment gives Sweet Virginia more staying power than it probably deserves.

DeWitt reminds us again of her skill with a character, embracing Bernie’s brittleness and resilience to craft an authentic presence. More impressive, though, is Poots in an aching performance.

Daggs shows confidence in his script and his performers, siding with atmosphere over exposition and letting scenes breathe. His string-heavy score and fixation with reflections and the spare light cast by a lonely street lamp create a mood that is familiar, yes, but fitting and welcome.

This is Coen territory, and where the Brothers can always find texture in even the most threadbare of material, Daggs’s film feels superficial. It holds your attention and repays you for the effort with a series of finely drawn and beautifully delivered characters, not to mention a script that invests in clever callbacks as well as character.

It’s a gripping film that lacks substance, a well-told reiteration on the same theme.