Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Arriving at Sundance on a wave of controversy, is the film previously known as the 'Dakota Fanning rape project' really worthy of all the column inches?

In short, no. This slice of southern gothic is deep fried in almost every cliche you could mention from the last 50 years - and served up with an unfortunate side order of snakes.

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Fanning plays Lewellen - a dirt-poor kid, growing up with her drunken, possibly abusive, father (David Morse), who dreams of meeting Elvis and sings Hound Dog at the drop of a hat. On the sidelines are dad's squeeze and part-time punchbag (Robin Wright Penn) and God-fearing grammie (Piper Laurie, trying hard to find nuance in the bag of mad-old-southern-bat hand-me-downs).

Most of the time Lewellen races about in her underwear with pal Buddy (Cody Hanford), until dad has an unfortunate encounter with a bolt of lightning (in a very ill-advised piece of cheap stunt work) and she has to become his part-time carer, too. Her Only Real Friend is local African American Charles (Afemo Omilami), whose character is really the point at which the script's wheels start to come off.

He is such a stereotype, it's scary how little distance we have come in 50 years. From his love of the blues, to his heart of gold and - perhaps most irritatingly - ability to work medicinal magic with snakes, director and writer Debra Kampmeier takes lazy racial characterisation to new lows.

This is a shame, since the "rape" scene that has caused such controversy is, in fact, handled extremely well. The incident itself has a decent element of surprise and is not in the least bit salacious. The cinematography is lush and the cast, too, make the best of a bad job. Fanning has a lovely voice and proves again what a wonderful actress she is - setting out her stall with the kind of performance which will doubtless see her garnering a shelf full of Oscars before much longer. In fact, all the supporting cast do their best to rise above the inadequacies of the script.

It is Kampmeier's use of snakes, however, which poisons the proceedings. After nary a mention of them for the first half hour, they start popping up in cut-away shots and, before you can say Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Lewellen is sleeping in a bed full of them. It has all the symoblistic subtlety of a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the chops.

One thing is for sure, this film is set to go south if it ever hits the box office.

Reviewed on: 11 Feb 2007
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Drama about a girl growing up in the Deep South.

Director: Deborah Kampmeier

Writer: Deborah Kampmeier

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Isabelle Fuhrman, Cody Hanford, Piper Laurie, David Morse, Afemo Omilami, Ryan Pelton, Ron Prather, Christoph Sanders, Jill Scott, Frank Hoyt Taylor

Year: 2007

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: USA


Sundance 2007

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