Unemployment and the decline of the American manufacturing backbone is a topic that is on the forefront of many people’s minds right now. With an election looming, and the factories closing more each month, it is a backdrop tailor-made for a harsh, modern coming of age story that puts in stark contrast to the now mythical American dream of achieving anything through hard work and perseverance. And this is where writer/director Nicole Riegel’s latest, Holler, comes to deliver a gripping film that is as stunning and engaging as it is bleak.
Jessy Barden’s Ruth (The End of the F***ing World) is a high school senior who has just found out she is accepted to college with no possible way to pay for her next stage in life. She and her brother Blaze (Gus Halper) work collecting scrap, along with a few other jobs to make ends meet. It is a sparse and brutal existence, fighting for every penny they can get. With no way to pay for school, and the little paychecks they do get barely enough to pay for living, the pair join a dangerous scrap metal crew run by shady scrap yard owner Hark (Austin Amelio) and find that easy money comes at a price.
Holler is a film about people struggling to get by, with everyone feeling like they have depth and character beyond what is seen on screen. There is enough humour and heart to make even the most bleak scenes feel like there is a slim ray of hope. These are people that don’t have time to live in self-pity, with the next job — and potential job — being the difference between starving or making ends meet.
The stunning cinematography works to paint the harsh cold winter of Ohio as the backdrop to the story. The rust covered factories and crumbling landscape gives a stark reminder to what the characters suffer though on a daily basis. What was once vibrant is now rusting away, only having value as they sell it off to China for scrap. Holler is a film set squarely in the modern American Rustbelt, where the once vibrant communities only have memories and hope to keep them moving forward.
Jessy Barden steals the show, giving a subdued, but engaging performance. It is a nuanced take on the role, painting a picture of both hope and resignation, and gives a sense of the struggle this character has gone through to reach the point we find her in. There are small hints at the struggles Ruth goes through, and the true fragility of her character, but thanks to Barden’s take it feels woven perfectly into how she acts, carries herself, and pushes for her dreams.
With amazing performances, and a stark take on modern American landscape, Holler is a film that is as powerful as it is harsh. It is a coming of age story that is not afraid to show the brutal truth along with the hope for a better future. Nicole Riegel directs a film that puts the class divide in stark contrast and is an engaging work from beginning to end.