This is an intriguing if uneven US indie from a first-time filmmaker whose strong grasp of character and eye for visual composition could herald impressive things to come. Inspired by writer-director Rebecca Thomas’s own childhood in a Mormon community on the outskirts of Las Vegas, the film centres on Rachel (Julia Garner), the sheltered child of religious separatists who believes she’s been divinely impregnated the first time she hears rock’n’roll. Heading off to Sin City in search of the group responsible, she falls in with Clyde (Rory Culkin) and his feckless gang of skate-park thrash metallers, who teach her stark, often painful lessons about how the real world works.
The pleasures of Electrick Children are almost exclusively to be found in its photography – all magic-hour desert haze and flickering, unfocused neon – and the performances, which are altogether superb. Garner’s Rachel is the archetypal wide-eyed flower child, the product of a benevolent but misguided upbringing which has robbed her of the chance to live a ‘normal’ life. Culkin’s mooching, melancholy hipster wannabe Clyde makes for a wonderfully off-kilter hero, and there’s strong support from familiar bit-players like Billy Zane, Cynthia Watros and Bill Sage.
But Thomas’s script is far too wayward, founded on clumsy coincidence and dubious magic-realist happenstance, all leading to a climactic sequence of desperate Dickensian loose end-tying and vague mystical blather. It’s a shame, because with its confidently sustained mood of adolescent unease and discovery, Electrick Children almost achieves something special.