Festivals, Reviews

TIFF 2020: ‘Holler’—Escaping Small-Town America

A debut feature from director Nicole Riegel, Holler gives us a glance at the bleak landscape of the small South Ohio town that she grew up in. Riegel captures this life in 16mm film from the point of view of the film’s young protagonist, who embodies the grittiness of working-class life in the dying factory town.

The film follows Ruth Avery, portrayed by the amazing Jessica Barden (you might know her from the TV series The End of the F***ing World), who is trying to get by in a town running out of opportunities after being hit hard by economic downturn. Together with her brother Blaze (Gus Halper), they labor at a scrap yard doing dangerous work and stealing metal from abandoned factories; remnants of the once-booming past. Ruth finds a ticket out when she gets accepted to college, but she’s faced with the dilemma of leaving her family behind.

Holler, in its gritty realism, sheds light on what is happening in previously-thriving small factory towns. With Dustin Lanes’ cinematography, it captures the right temperament of a town in neglect. The film alludes to the current state of the economy, with certain statements heard from the current president of what is considered the most powerful country in the world. Ruth tries to survive in a town that raised her but realizes that in order for her to pull through, she must leave it.

America abandoning its working class is a story that is told over and over as it reflects the current state of the country. Riegel brings credibility to her storytelling for this is a community she knows well. There is a charm she brings into the small town to contrast its wilting situation, which offers slight hope for our protagonists.

The cast’s performances carry the story, from the incredible performances of the main actors to the non-pro supporting actors who add authenticity to the film. Barden brings a sterling performance as a teen dealing with such obstacles in the turning point of their life. She is an unforgettable force, making her one of the actresses I am excited to see more onscreen. Another performance that swept me is Becky Ann Baker’s portrayal of the siblings’ mother figure, Linda. She brings comfort not just to them but to the viewers as well.

The film is beautifully shot and feels genuine. Riegel’s composition of her characters is profound; you find yourself rooting for all of them no matter what, watching them develop throughout the whole 90-minute runtime.

Holler would have made its debut at this year’s canceled SXSW Film Festival. It instead premiered at the Deauville Film Festival in the dramatic competition and is part of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Industry Selects.

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