Our second day – and third film – of TIFF20 is reserved for Nicole Riegel‘s debut feature ‘Holler‘. Riegel, winner of Palm Springs Festival’s “Directors to Watch”-award, channels some serious gritty ‘Winter’s Bone‘-vibes, including a promising young lead and a look at a small community living far beneath the poverty line, trying to survive in Trump’s America.

In a forgotten pocket of Southern Ohio where American manufacturing and opportunity are drying up, a determined young woman finds a ticket out when she is accepted to college. Alongside her older brother, Ruth Avery (Jessica Barden – ‘The End of the F***ing World‘) joins a dangerous scrap metal crew in order to pay her way. Together, they spend one brutal winter working the scrap yards during the day and stealing valuable metal from the once thriving factories by night. With her goal in sight, Ruth finds that the ultimate cost of an education for a girl like her may be more than she bargained for, and she soon finds herself torn between a promising future and the family she would leave behind.

Barden delivers a convincing performance, and even if the story’s pacing is a bit off at times, it does give us an interesting look at small town America we rarely see on screen. The hardships of growing up in the middle of nowhere, where industries are slowly dying, turns the most optimistic person into a hardcore cynic. Over the radio, you can hear the current president pride himself for creating a ton of new jobs, but the reality is far from true. Riegel uses Ruth’s consistent drive to be better than her “junkie mother” (played by an underutilized Pamela Adlon) – as she likes to blame her for getting addicted to painkillers after a work injury – although there’s hardly enough evidence of that booksmart and how she got accepted to college in the first place. The story likes to focus more on the siblings working at the local scrapyard, than her lack of going to school and the problems she faces by doing so.

The constant struggle of these siblings trying to keep their heads up high, even though there isn’t much to live for, is what made me connect with these characters. It’s more of a character study blend with stunning cinematography that really gives ‘Holler‘ the grittiness it wants to convey. The industrial look of the film works in many ways, this is partly due to the timing of filming (beautiful freezing winter) and the lack of colour. Clearly a stylistic choice of Riegel, to make her main character really want to escape the back of beyond, even if it means to let go of the things that made her the tough individual she’s become.

Holler‘ is a times as shaky as the camera movements capturing the wearisome Southern Ohio industrial society, where Barden’s character gets a chance to shine as bright as the metal she so dearly holds onto in the hope of a more favourable future. Nicole Riegel – remember her name.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

TIFF20 Review – ‘Holler’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 10, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A Hunting Lane Films, Feigco Entertainment, Level Forward production. Producers: Adam Cobb (p.g.a.), Rachel Gould, Katie McNeill (p.g.a.), Jamie Patricof (p.g.a.), Christy Spitzer Thornton (p.g.a.). Executive producers: Adrienne Becker, Abigail Disney, Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Gretchen McGowan.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Nicole Riegel. Editor: Kate Hickey. Cinematography: Dustin Lane. Music: Gene Back.

WITH: Jessica Barden, Pamela Adlon, Becky Ann Baker, Austin Amelio, Gus Halper, Grace Kaiser, Larry Jones.

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