Kid-Thing, David and Nathan Zellner‘s followup to their 2008 feature Goliath, premiered at Sundance in 2012 and spent the rest of last year touring the festival circuit. Now that it’s been picked up by the discerning music and film distributor Factory 25, Kid-Thing begins a theatrical run today at the IFC Center in New York before it heads out on a month-long trek across the continent. The Zellner Bros. have the cities, the dates, and the links.
“An uneasy fusion of free-form tagalong and malevolent fairy tale, this wisp of an indie feature follows stringy-haired ten-year-old Annie (Sydney Aguirre) as she prowls the run-down territory around her rural home,” writes Sam Adams in Time Out New York. “Ignored by her redneck dad (Nathan Zellner), she shoplifts and hucks bread at passing cars as if she’s in a budding-delinquent version of David Gordon Green’s George Washington.”
“Then one day in the woods, she hears a woman calling for help from the bottom of an old well,” notes Neil Genzlinger in the New York Times. And that woman would be Esther, played by the late Susan Tyrrell. “Deeply distrustful of people in general and, for some reason, unwilling to enlist adult assistance, Annie improvises, helping the woman without rescuing her…. The film is, if nothing else, an interesting meditation on how a child who grows up without guidance might react to a situation that requires judgment.”
“Esther, very possibly a figment of Annie’s imagination—an imaginary enemy—is at once mother figure, alter ego, and all of the traits Annie tries not to let out,” wrote Jesse Klein at Hammer to Nail in March 2012. “It’s a testament to the bleakness of the world that the Zellner Bros. create that a 10-year-old’s imaginary friend is withholding, faceless, defined by absence. This bleakness is expressed in part by the patience exhibited in Nathan Zellner’s cinematography. Pink clouds saunter across the sky, goats slowly approach the foreground, people just sit there. In one scene, we watch Annie watch Marvin and Caleb scratch scratch cards; perhaps watching someone scratch scratch cards is mundane, but watching someone watch someone scratch scratch cards is nothing short of riveting.”
A month before, Jonathan Romney, writing for Screen, called Kid-Thing “entirely an unclassifiable film-thing…. With its abrupt curveball ending, Kid-Thing is a peculiar hybrid—sufficiently realistic to work as a female trailer-trash 400 Blows, casually surreal enough to stray at times closer to art video than to conventional narrative.”
Update, 8/8: “Acting-writing-directing-producing brothers David and Nathan Zellner have been building a strong reputation in the independent-film community with their eccentric shorts, which dwell at the intersection of John Waters, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, and David Gordon Green,” writes Noel Murray at the Dissolve. “In the Zellners’ elliptical, deadpan art-comedy Kid-Thing, the brothers try as long as possible to avoid maneuvering their heroine into anything like a plot. Instead, Kid-Thing is more like a 1960s-style pastoral youth movie with a serrated edge…. This movie is, at times, aggressively odd…. Beneath the affectations, there’s poetry in Kid-Thing, and truth in its depiction of how absolute freedom can be a kind of trap.”
Update, 8/9: “On the one hand, it’s a carefully measured portrait of a wild, destructive girl in central Texas,” writes Andrew Welch at In Review Online. “That distanced feeling of observation, however, is bizarrely undercut by moments of near-absurdist humor. Even stranger, the Annie-and-Esther dynamic feels like it could become a full-on horror story, as Annie, on several occasions, wonders if Esther is in fact the devil; because we only hear Esther and never see her, her disembodied voice has a ghostly, supernatural quality that feels slightly threatening. What you get when you mix these wildly disparate elements together is a thought-provoking picture that’s never boring but difficult to appreciate to the degree its makers probably want you to.”