Review: Holler Captures the Desperation of a Dying Small Town and a Young Woman’s Chance to Break Out

Based on writer/director Nicole Riegel’s 2016 short film of the same name, Holler tells the story of Ruth Aery (Jessica Barden), a high schooler in a small, southern Ohio industrial town, where jobs and ways to make a legit living are disappearing rapidly. Ruth is incredibly smart and motivated to get the hell out of town as soon as she can, but this is also the only place she’s ever known, and it’s almost impossible for her to imagine a life where she and her older brother Blaze (Gus Halper) aren’t looking out for each other.


Image courtesy of IFC Films.

Outside of Blaze’s work at the town’s manufacturing plant, they find odd jobs and collect cans that they sell to local scrap dealer Hark (Austin Amelio), but when they get evicted from their house, Hark offers to let them move in with him while they work at his scrap yard. There, they learn the trade, both the legal and slightly illegal parts of it, which includes breaking into abandoned buildings and stripping out the valuable copper wiring, pipes and anything else they can eventually sell to Chinese buyers for big money.

Not wanting his sister to live out the rest of her life in this dead-end place, Blaze applies to college on Ruth’s behalf, and she gets in, so now the work they’re doing is for money to pay for her schooling, even though she’s not convinced she wants to go. Her life’s unhappy future is underscored by visits to see their drug addict mother Rhonda (the great Pam Adlon) in prison, who is slated to get out soon if she has a place to live. Rhonda’s oldest friend, Linda (Becky Ann Baker), who also works at the plant, takes the siblings into her home when they have a falling out with Hark after a break-in goes wrong and someone gets killed.

Holler is rarely an easy ride for its characters, but Barden’s note-perfect performance makes this story of a young woman torn between the familiar and the unknown feel so authentic and heartfelt that it’s impossible not to root for her while also assuring her that her future could be so bright if she’d only take a few steps into something unfamiliar and scary. Riegel’s directing is delicate but sure-handed, as she navigates the junk-ridden corners of this dying town as well as the last vestiges of hope in Ruth’s life. Through the performance and the direction, we can clearly see hints of what Ruth’s existence will be if she stays (a fleeting possible romance between Ruth and Hark will send a chill up the spine of most viewers). This is easily one of the better and most promising films of the month so far, so make the effort to seek it out.

The film is now playing in select theaters and on VOD.

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