Rated R. In VOD and digital.
From the first writer-director Nicole Riegel comes “Holler”, a film as raw as its subject. This subject is Ruth (an outstanding Jessica Barden), a high school student from Rust Belt Ohio, who lives with her older brother Blaze (Gus Halper) while their mother Rhonda (Pamela Adlon) is serving time in prison. Blaze didn’t graduate from high school because he had to take care of his little sister in her senior year. Ruth’s life story is a litany of loss and hardship: eviction notices, water cuts, prison visits, drug addiction, impending plant closure, petty theft and more. The future is bleak, although Ruth was accepted into college. While her mother’s reaction to Ruth’s acceptance is, “We are not students,” Ruth is intelligent, secretly ambitious, and her brother longs for her to go out.
She and Blaze collect aluminum cans in plastic bags for gasoline money for her truck, but need more income and start working at a local junkyard, collecting iron, aluminum and especially copper for Chinese dealers. This is the only decently paid job they can get, and it is difficult, dangerous and can be life threatening when their boss Hark (Austin Amelio) forces them to participate in illegal demolition raids, kidnapping. the metal of abandoned buildings, risking falling on the police or a rival gang of scrapbookers. These scrapers are modern day gleaners, and scrapers are junk too. Society has little or no need for these people and will not miss them. Ruth, who is smarter than most, if not all male workers, is an asset to Hark’s team. But she also has strong opinions and he doesn’t like that.
The narration is meager. The film was shot using portable cameras in the gray Ohio winter and cramped interiors. It is sad and cold. Ruth’s red woolen cap is her trademark, distinguishes her from everyone, a sign of the fever in her head. “Holler” is reminiscent of Tony Richardson’s 1962 masterpiece “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” and the so-called “kitchen sink” dramas of the British era “Angry Young Men” after WWII. “Holler” is also a kitchen sink drama, and the sink has no water (or copper) and no angry young men for that matter. Most of the town’s residents work in a food processing factory, where Ruth’s neighbor Linda (winner Becky Ann Baker), who is a friend of Rhonda’s, is a shop steward.
Barden keeps Ruth quiet. She doesn’t pretend to be smart because it’s a world in which you can’t be better. But you can see Ruth’s longing in Barden’s eyes and feel her desire to be better, to rise above the hideous clamor of poverty and crime and fly away. With its emo-rich soundtrack, “Holler” also has a lot in common with “The Rider” and “Nomadland” by Oscar winner Chloe Zhao. These are films that turn difficult moments in real life into works of lasting transcendence.
(“” Holler “contains profanity and suggestive language.)