SXSW FILM 2012
By Linc Leifeste | March 21, 2012
Director: David Zellner
Writer: David Zellner
Starring: Sydney Aguirre, Susan Tyrrell, Nathan Zellner, David Zellner, David Wingo, Heather Kafka, Sam Douglas, Peter Vasquez
Kid-Thing is a dream-like fable about Annie (Sydney Aguirre), a young tom-boy growing up devoid of parental guidance or societal integration, allowed to run wild and uninhibited in the woods on the outskirts of Austin, her activity only limited by her stamina and imagination. Told through Annie’s eyes, the story fittingly veers between the realistic and the fantastical, told primarily visually.
Annie lives in a rural home with her father Marvin (Nathan Zellner), who seems basically a well-intentioned (if you’re being generous) but inept father figure who appears to spend more time and communicate more effectively with his goats than his daughter. Borderline moronic, or maybe suffering from some kind of mental illness or addiction problem, he spends a lot of time hanging out with his apparent best friend Caleb (David Zellner), laughing maniacally at inside jokes or frantically scratching off lottery tickets while Annie sits unnoticed. It’s never explained where Annie’s mother is, but after seeing Marvin a few times, it’s no wonder he’s single.
Annie spends the majority of her time skipping school and running wild in the fields and woodlands that make up her world. It is in the conveyance of her adventures that the film shines, with long wordless shots of her riding her bike through large round bales of hay or terrorizing cow patties and cow carcasses with her paintball gun. She’s also prone to making frequent stops at a neighborhood convenience store, shoplifting whatever items strike her fancy, whether it be lollipops or cans of biscuit dough (which make great projectiles for hurling at passing cars when wadded into a giant ball). And the scene where she hilariously places a prank call to an auto mechanic had me laughing out loud and recalling the childish joy of carrying out such pranks.
While Annie’s behavior definitely tends toward juvenile delinquency, for the most part there doesn’t seem to be anything malevolent or twisted in her behavior (with a couple of notable exceptions, such as when she smashes the birthday cake of a wheelchair-bound young girl right in front of her eyes for no reason). She seems like a smart kid going through the process of growing up unsupervised, pushing her boundaries without much in the way of societally or parentally instilled impulse control. One of the joys of watching the film was the sense of seeing elements of my own childhood play out on the big screen, having grown up in a place and time where unsupervised outside play was often the norm during weekends and summers and fireworks and BB guns (versus paint guns) were readily available.
It is on one of Annie’s trips to the woods that she suddenly hears the voice of a woman (Susan Tyrrell) crying for help. Intrigued and slightly scared, Annie goes to investigate only to find that the voice is coming from an abandoned well. Her first response is to flee but before long she is back and communicating with Esther, a kindly but slightly creepy sounding voice coming up from the well, asking for Annie’s help in getting out. Annie instead leaves only to return sporadically to drop down a variety of food items and eventually a walkie-talkie so that she can communicate with Esther any time she wants. An odd and inappropriate response to the situation, definitely, but in perfect keeping with the character and story.
The Zellner’s combination of oddball moments with quirky humor and visually striking aesthetics struck a chord with me but it is Annie’s character and Aguirre’s striking performance that truly carry the film. Her mix of uninhibited childish enthusiasm, youthful angst and occasional slight menace are a joy to behold.
(Also check out our SXSW 2012 video interview with David Zellner, Nathan Zellner and Syndey Aguirre.)