A few nights ago, I was lucky enough to have caught a film just by chance. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is a 1976 thriller/drama starring Jodie Foster. While it can't be called a horror film, there are elements within it that bring to mind a few horror movies, namely Psycho, among others. I'd never seen it, so thought I'd watch a bit of it and see what it was like.
I've always enjoyed Jodie Foster's acting, but for some reason she never comes to mind when people ask me my favorite actors. Maybe she should. Her body of work is so extraordinary, when you think about all roles she has had, from a child television star to films like Taxi Driver, The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs, Nell, Panic Room, The Brave One...heck, even Freaky Friday. And anyone who saw this particular Canadian production back in 1976 should have realized immediately that she was going to be a force to reckon with.
Rynn Jacobs is a wiser-than-her-years thirteen year old who is living in a rented house on the outskirts of a small seaside town. I don't really think it's spoiling anything by mentioning that it's obvious after a few minutes of film that Rynn is living alone in the house. We find out that her father is a poet, and that he's not readily available for receiving guests. They've recently moved over from England and have signed a three year lease on the home.
When we meet Rynn she is celebrating her 13th birthday with a cake and candles on Halloween night.
Her party for one is interrupted by one Frank Hallet, a pedophile disguised as a normal joe - the landlady's son - who uses a ruse about trick or treating to gain access to the house and act entirely creepy towards Rynn. Martin Sheen plays this role to perfection. In fact, he is so lewd and indecent that I was both nervous and pissed just thinking about it. His suggestive manner at first makes you think he's going to take advantage of Rynn being alone, but then we see how tough she is, and how well she can stand on her own. She stands up to his lecherous remarks, knowing just what to say to get him out of the house.
When the bitchy landlady (Alexis Smith) shows up at the house asking to speak with Rynn's father, Rynn bounces back with sarcasm and irritates Mrs. Hallet into claiming she is going to speak to the school board about Rynn's apparent truancy. But Rynn counters, telling Mrs. Hallet about her son's visit to the house, pointing out that it might not be appropriate for him to be stopping by to visit a thirteen year old girl when her father isn't home. Mrs. Hallet is pissed but drops it, asking Rynn to let her into the basement to retrieve some jelly jars. Rynn flat out refuses, causing a bit of a scene. Mrs. Hallet lets it go for the moment, perhaps afraid of Rynn's knowledge of her son's tendencies. The caustic bantering between these two is definitely one of the highlights of the movie, it's fun to watch.
At this point I think the audience knows something untoward is going on. The enigmatic father never does show up at any point to back Rynn's stories of him being out of town. And just why in the hell is Rynn so protective of the basement? And why is she always offering everyone tea? Watching her move about the house like she owns it - baking her cake, serving up tea and cookies, even turning out all the lights before heading off to bed with a book - all acts that seem much too adult for someone so young and innocent.
How she handles herself with Frank Hallet is also indicative of someone who knows a bit too much about the pressures of adulthood and the sometimes difficult experiences in life.
Frank finds Rynn in town the next day, he starts up the creep act again, only to get spooked by the cop pulling up to the curb. Rynn makes a quick friend in Officer Miglioriti, who apparently knows Frank is one fry short of a happy meal. They chat and when Rynn explains that her father is working in his den and can't be disturbed, Officer Miglioriti buys the excuse and is on his way.
Already intrigued enough to continue watching, I was pretty amazed at how believable Rynn's deception is. I can see how it would work for awhile, but as people get more curious, there is bound to be trouble. And that's exactly what happens. Mrs Hallet returns, demanding the jelly jars. Rynn has brought them up from the basement, but when Mrs. Hallet notices the rubber seals are missing, she takes it upon herself to roughly flip open the basement trap door (shades of Evil Dead here) and storm down the steps. When she sees (just her, the audience still doesn't know) something that scares the tar out of her she screams and manages to knock the door down on her head. It's certainly no surprise when Rynn opens the door and finds Mrs. Hallet dead.
One evening when the two of them are having dinner at Rynn's, Officer Miglioriti stops by to announce that Mrs. Hallet has been reported missing by her son. He all but demands to see Rynn's father, but Mario covers her tracks by eluding to the poet being upstairs in bed. After this act of trust, Rynn decides it's time to show Mario just what IS in the basement. And it isn't what you think.
I have to admit, I was thoroughly entertained by this film. Foster's excellent performance carries the entire movie, and the backup cast is made better because of it. The friendship between Rynn and Mario does become intimate, and while some may turn their noses at a child having a serious relationship, I thought it was handled sweetly and appropriately. After all, it was almost hard not to see her as an adult - or at least an older teen. It fit the storyline and was as plausible as it was gutsy.
Sheen, as the disturbing sexual deviant, seemed like the guy next door - until he opened his mouth and started spouting those distressing and suggestive come-ons....to a CHILD. Gah!
After learning the whole story of what has transpired in the house, and the pain and loss Rynn has been through, you want everything to work out for her. You actually want a thirteen year old to be able to live in a big old farmhouse alone, to not be discovered by the cops or the school board, and you certainly want justice to be served to the resident pervert.
What is most remarkable is how well Foster carries herself and embodies the role. Telling the tale of a little girl who will do pretty much anything to keep her happy home, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is a most impressive turn by a child actor who turned out to be one of the finest of our generation. Herein lies the proof of what is to come.