SXSW 2012 Review: KID-THING

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SXSW 2012 Review: KID-THING

Kid-Thing is not, by any means, a terrible movie. The latest effort from brothers David and Nathan Zellner is the tale of a young girl caught in less than ideal circumstances, and at its core, the idea is somewhat novel and interesting. To be perfectly frank, however, Kid-Thing is a film that is unlikely to see much attention outside of the film festival circuit, as it relies far too heavily on heavy-handed whimsy, childhood nostalgia, and the odd chuckle to carry its rather non-eventful plot along.

 Annie (Sydney Aguirre) is a young girl who lives in a rural area with two men (her exact relationship to them is never made clear), who keep her semi-nourished and with a place to sleep, but do very little else in the way of parenting. Marvin (Nathan Zellner) isn't a bad guy, he's just an idiot, and may or may not be depressed (this is hinted, at but never fully explored). As such, Annie is left to fill her days with aimless wandering, shoplifting, and random acts of innocent, childhood destruction. One day, while playing in the woods, she hears an elderly woman calling for help from an abandoned well, and after a brief and hostile interrogation, chooses to leave the woman there. The rest of the film follows Annie as she...wanders around, shoplifts, and destroys things, every now and again returning to the well to ask more questions of the mysterious woman before running off once more.

 Annie is a believable and even somewhat sympathetic character, but she remains static through the bulk of the story, only begrudgingly helping the trapped woman after we're treated to many long, meandering scenes completely unrelated to the central conflict. These moments reveal little to us about Annie's situation that we don't already know from the opening moments. The ending, ambiguous at best, forces us to wonder exactly what the Zellner brothers were trying to tell us about childhood, nature versus nurtures, and why we should care. Such a non-story could be forgiven were the film at least visually compelling, but shots of dull, uninteresting locations linger for excruciating amounts of time, filling out the running time with unnecessary dead air.

 A former professor of mine once explained non-traditional narrative filmmaking as the difference between using your camera as paintbrush or a window. If the Zellner brothers set out to craft their film as a window into the world of a child with few friends and no loved ones, they have succeeded, but to what end? Annie's refusal to trust anyone or extend kindness is understandable within the context of her environment, but the observations made by Kid-Thing are dull and uninspiring. Perhaps that's the point the Zellner brothers are trying to make, and an argument could be made that the story's structure intentionally mirrors that of Annie's adolescence, but it doesn't make for particularly interesting filmmaking. The truth of the matter is, Kid-Thing might have made a decent short, but as it is, the dragging narrative and ho-hum visuals make for a rather tiresome feature.

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David ZellnerSydney AguirreNathan ZellnerDavid WingoZack CarlsonDrama
tmeunierMarch 11, 2012 10:20 PM

We came to much the same conclusion discussing this on the way home. This film was an excellent 12- or 15-minute short. It wasn't a good 80+ minute feature. Sydney Aguirre is a wonderful young actress.

joniannMarch 12, 2012 8:53 AM

I had a nearly opposite reaction - instead of dead air each scene felt charged and full of varied sensations and emotions, and the film caused a mixture of strong emotions in me. For one, it brought back that sense of being an outsider in a world not of my own making that I think many children must feel at one time or another. And the visuals were often gorgeous, striking and strange. This is the kind of film I always hope to find at festivals (and long to see in theaters), a funny/sad vision of an off-kilter world, bizarre yet still truthful.

lalaMarch 12, 2012 3:41 PM

I found the film moving, with an almost meditative quality. Like the commenter above, I found the visuals especially striking and I don't understand how they could be described as "ho hum". The juxtaposition of Annie running wild through a world which seems to be rotting at the seams, resisting her call to action, is non-traditional to be sure -- but I enjoyed it and would see it again.

sunshinegaMarch 15, 2012 1:53 AM

Although I respect the reviewer's perspective, I believe that he missed the point. The film is a meditation on a directionless childhood, and thus it seems at times directionsless, as Annie's childhood is. To call Annie static indicates that the reviewer didn't notice that Annie actually changed her behavior, paying for her items at the convenience store before then she finds her bicycle stolen, and before her father dies. The reviewer missed the nihilistic message of the film, the moral to the story that the film-makers call a fable: you may do evil or you may do good, but ultimately you have no control of your destiny. Annie's jump into the well suggests that she, unlike the reviewer, understands that her only choice is to surrender to chaos. Nihilism frightens many people. It obviously frightened this reviewer as well.

JEFFMarch 17, 2012 12:39 PM

Thanks a lot for ruining the ending of the movie, sunshinega (GWYNNE ASH). Haven't you ever heard of 'SPOILER ALERT'? YOU SUCK, STOP ATTENDING FILM FESTIVALS!