Girl isn’t exactly a title that sets expectations. Coming-of-age in Appalachia? Winter’s Bone-esque rural drama? A meditation on midwestern hardships? No, director/writer Chad Faust has simpler goals for his debut feature: a run-all-night thriller fueled by family darkness.

The titular unnamed girl (Bella Thorne), a daughter to be exact, arrives in her hometown with one goal and many questions. Over the phone, her mother (Elizabeth Saunders) pleads with her to return, but the hatchet hooked in Bella’s belt desires bloody vengeance. The girl has come for her father, to end him for all the pain he caused her mother. But when she finally reaches his home, amid ominous town whispers and a bemused sheriff (Mickey Rourke), the encounter doesn’t unfold as anticipated. The man’s already dead, turning a simple revenge mission into a mystery to solve.

With that fateful discovery, Girl shifts into thriller mode, flowing languidly between worsening situations and stark suspense sequences. A chance meeting in a laundromat erupts into a scrambling table-snapping brawl, choreographed to deliver maximum sloppiness and wincing tumbles. Faust structures the rest of the film in that mold: mysterious reveals leisurely building towards a confrontation, a few reveals, repeat, throughout a single afternoon and night. A hallway fight, a hatchet versus axe showdown, a late-night car chase, each action beat unfolding as a bruising unadorned set-piece.

As a brisk thriller, Girl is a gritty rural-noir success. As a story of family secrets gradually unearthed, Faust’s storytelling is less accomplished. Bella Thorne may bring a committed physicality to her role, but her character is trapped in a cycle of non-answers and confusion. Half of her lines are variations on the same perplexed questions regarding her father or the mysterious letter in her mother’s possession; her character barely develops into more than those constant bewildered inquiries. One can see the kernel of a theme, about outsiders and sins of the past haunting the next generations, but our protagonist only ever seems perpetually clueless, forever drifting among the whims of the plot.

Thankfully, the supporting cast surrounds Thorne with more distinct personalities. Mickey Rourke is leathery and wonderfully slimy as the town’s sheriff; it’s his causally shrewd presence that gives Girl’s action and suspense an unpredictable bite. Faust himself plays the sheriff’s weaselly brother, and together, the two provide the film with its cocksure menace. Similarly, Glen Gould’s barkeep and Lanette Ware’s Betty bring a western-esque air to the crime thrills: knowing townsfolk offering dire warnings, laconic answers, and quietly enduring the town’s corrupt happenings. Compared to everyone else around her, Bella Thorne’s charisma and intensity can only carry her tepid protagonist so far.

Girl is an oddly conventional beast. A succinct little thriller not aspiring to be anything more than mystery-driven suspense, while simultaneously seeming like a film with greater aspirations that only manages to achieve a bleak and gritty shallowness. The small-town hatchet-swinging action is competent and impressively savage, but the plot and people around that excitement don’t cut as deeply as those hatchet blows.

Summary
As a brisk thriller, Girl is a gritty rural-noir success. As a story of family secrets gradually unearthed, Faust’s storytelling is less accomplished.
60 %
Shallow suspense
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