I had only "read" about this Zellner Brothers production. I had read it described as surrealism, cinematic metaphor and a new take on the idea of "fable" or "parable." A couple of friends who are professional film critics disliked the movie, but more than just a few felt "Kid-Thing" had a good deal of merit.
"Kid Thing" is essentially a story about a neglected little girl. Her father is largely unconcerned and uncaring about his daughter. He is more interested in his own limited and pathetically vacant life. "Annie" spends her time alone. Even when she happens to be in the same room as her father or/and his loser pal -- she could just as easily be not there. It is not even clear if Annie bothers to go to school. When passively asked about school, Annie's response is that it is out due to a gas leak. Her comment is met with little to no response.
We follow Amy on her mundane "daze" walking about the small Texas town in which she lives. She steals from the local convenience store, she makes prank phone calls, she forages through storage closets, senselessly destroys things, shoots her paint gun at a dead cow carcass, bullies other children and stumbles upon a dry well in the forrest. An elderly female voice calls out for help. Annie is at first afraid, then curious and for a brief time imagines that the voice is that of The Devil.
Then everything takes on a far more sinister tone.
In the end, it feels as if we are seeing a sociopath emerging from a mixture of neglect and indifference. No one wants to be her friend. No one cares. Even the old woman trapped in the well begins to hate her as Annie seems to take "delight" or "amusement" in providing only the smallest amount of help.
Sidney Aguirre plays "Annie" with an effective blend of repressed rage and boredom. David Zellner has applied a great deal of style and thought into the staging of what we see. Every shot, every movement seems to have a promise or possibility of something important.
As the credits began to appear, the audience is left in a bit of a conundrum: What just happened? Is this literal? Is this indeed some form of "surrealism" or "cinematic metaphor?" Is this some new twisted take on child's fable? If so what is the parable to be learned?
I'm not sure any conclusion offers a clear answer.
Unattended, ignored, alone, lonely, bored and angry. However you want to look at it, poor Annie faces a void of one form or another. And she above all else seems to be aware.
I do disagree with my two friends who earn their living reviewing film. This is an intriguing and unique work of art. It is provocative and grim. But I could not look away. Very well executed film.
Her Dad Marvin (Nathan Zellner, brother of the film's director) is preoccupied with running his failing farm and drinking heavily. Marvin has no chance of success, the sight of him and his buddy Caleb scraping through a pile of lottery scratch cards to no avail sums up his situation in life. He's no idea how to raise a daughter, and no real interest in doing so. Not because he's a bad person, but because he's dull minded. Self help books seem like good guidance to Marvin. Annie asking how the writers know how to make life better confuses him and he replies 'They just do'.
Out in the woods one day, is startled by eerie shouts for help coming from an old well shaft. At first she's terrified and runs. Next day curiosity gets the better of her and she returns, with some food and drink. Annie discovers a woman named Ester (voiced by Susan Tyrrell), who remains out of sight, is trapped down the well. First off Annie asks if she's the Devil, a reasonable question for a child hearing a voice from underground. Not one to be told what to do, Annie doesn't fetch help but over a couple of visits, provides Ester with food and drink, plus a walkie talkie so the two can communicate at distance. The first time Annie turns on her walkie talkie, she hears Ester sobbing uncontrollably but doesn't say anything herself. Later that night, Annie and Ester get into a conversation over the airwaves. Increasingly desperate for Annie to bring help to get her out of the well due to her worsening condition, Ester raises her voice. They argue, calling each other 'The Devil' tit for tat. Static and misery gives Ester's voice a sinister edge which is unsettling to hear. Ester starts crying again and the communication ends. After a while, Annie hails Ester again to offer a deal; she'll free Ester if Ester will take Annie away with her. No reply comes from Ester. In spite of the deal being unconfirmed, Annie goes to the well again with some supplies and repeats the offer. She's delayed reaching the well as her bike's stolen from outside the store, ironically during the only visit she pays for good instead of stealing them. There's still no response from Ester, so Annie throws down the supplies and returns home. There she witnesses Marvin have a heart attack, watching through an aperture made with her fingers. She does not help him. Whether this is from fear or malice is left for the viewer to decide. Annie goes to the well a final time for a heartbreakingly tragic finale.
Director David Zellner (who also plays the role of 'Caleb' in the film) draws viewers into the confined universe inhabited by Annie and Marvin by using close camera shots at all times. We never get any panoramas or views of the wider world. Thus the audience share some of the character's imprisoned existence. Heat parched, monotonous rural Texas life is shown in macro, reflecting Annie's boring life. This boredom, along with acute loneliness gives birth to her unwittingly nihilistic behaviour; which finds ultimate expression in some of the most effective and brilliantly unsettling scenes of the movie.
We see a family preparing to celebrate the daughter's birthday outside their house. Firstly the Mother brings out the daughter, who's around Annie's age and wheelchair bound, and sets her by a table. Party decorations festoon the property, bright colours clashing against sun bleached paint as if cheer is being determinedly forced into a sphere of depression. Although it's a happy occasion, the Mother seems so sad that she's about to cry - an expression that clashes with the 'Happy Birthday' headpiece she's wearing. The mother brings a cake, and then the father places two wrapped gifts on the table. Not a word is spoken until the father can't find the birthday candles and the mother goes back into the house to help him look, leaving the girl alone in her wheelchair. Annie suddenly appears, eyeing the girl with hostility and brandishing a baseball bat. She uses the bat to obliterate the cake, grabs one of the presents and runs off. Neither she nor the girl says anything. When they come out and see the damage, both parents look utterly bewildered. Violence coming from an indefinable rage at the human condition is woven beautifully with black comedy; inescapable misery and pathos to set your spine tingling.
Sydney Aguirre does a sterling job as Annie. For someone so young she doesn't seem to even notice the camera that is focussed on her for most of the 83 minutes. Her default sullen expression only cracks to display fear when she first hears Ester's cries for help, and when she comes close to smiling whilst on a fairground ride. Aguirre thus convincingly demonstrates Annie's crippled emotional being. For Annie has been dehumanised by the life she's drifting through, with no meaningful relationships or developmental support. The title, Kid-Thing alludes to this state of affairs. Even though some of her behaviour is reprehensible, the viewer cannot help pitying Annie.
She's as trapped in her directionless, mediocre sphere of existence as Ester is trapped in the well.
The viewer never sees Ester, nor discovers if the reason she falls silent is death or escape. David Zellner does this to infect the audience with Annie's early suspicion that Ester is demonic; tempting the young girl to her doom by offering false hope of a better life.
Kid thing delivers a punch to the soul that can be felt long after the final credits roll. It proves that there's no need for convoluted plot, smart dialogue or frenetic pacing for a film to be infectiously watchable. Should you fail to catch this at the E.I.F.F. I recommend you see it as soon as possible.
Director: David Zellner
Cast: Sydney Aguirre
Runtime: 83 mins