13th Sep2013

Rewind: ‘The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane’ Review (1976)

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman, Scott Jacoby | Written by Laird Koenig | Directed by Nicolas Gessner


Based on a novel by Laird Koenig and directed by Nicolas Gessner, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is a strange film, and one that I’ve been meaning to watch for quite some time. Released in 1976 and starring a 14 year old Jodie Foster, the film is macabre, dark, unsettling and even more importantly, underrated. I rarely hear people talk about this film. Now maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places for discussions about it, but I haven’t heard anyone really mention their feelings about it in the past.

The film follows the character of Rynn (Foster), a 13 year old girl who lives in a large secluded house in a small American seaside town. She keeps to herself, doesn’t venture to town for groceries and doesn’t go to school. Within a few months of living in the house, some of the residents of the town begin to find suspisions regarding the little girl….who…erm, lives down the lane.

There’s the landlady, Mrs Hallett who rented the house to Rynn and her father initially. A rude, abrupt and obnoxious woman who pushes her way into the house and demands to see Rynn’s father. We learn that her father is a poet who mustn’t be disturbed while he is working. This becomes a running inconvenience to the visitors to the house who never seem to be able to talk to Rynn’s father. The woman leaves under protest. We then meet a 36 year old Martin Sheen as the character Frank Hallett, the son of the landlady. His performance in the film stands out, perhaps mostly because the scenes with him are the most uncomfortable in the film. He introduces himself to Rynn with creepy glances and inappropriate touches of her hands before eventually leaving. The tone changes at this first meeting of the Frank character as you realise, as a viewer, that you wont be being treated to a normal run-of-the-mill thriller.

There is the local policeman named Miglioriti who lends a sense of warmth to the film that is needed in order to level things out and give some sense of safety, not only to the child lead but to the viewer also. He offers his safety net to Rynn and advises her to avoid Frank Hallett. This allows us knowledge that perhaps the Frank character has a past that isn’t, shall we say, crystal clear.

Finally, we meet Mario, a young man who becomes Rynn’s friend through his honesty and willingness to help her in the most bizarre and potentially destructive circumstances. Their relationship grows through a variety of scenarious that allow us to see more into the past of the Rynn character as well as her personality.

The story is a basic one in a way. We learn of the reasons why Rynn’s father is never available to see visitors, we see the interactions between Rynn and the variety of suspisious visitors to her home, and we see how intelligent, ingenious and brilliant a young girl can be when desperation and survival sets in. We also learn that Rynn is very protective about anyone looking in the cellar. This reminded me alot of the Hitchcock movie “Rope” and I thought that the tense scenes regarding access to the cellar are some of the best in the movie.

Without giving too much away with this review, because I’m not sure how many people have seen this film and I wouldn’t want to spoil things for anyone before they had the chance to see it for themselves. This is a very unusual and twisted little thriller. It borders on feeling like a horror movie at times and I guess it wouldn’t be incorrect to even label it as such. The performance of Jodie Foster as the lead character, Rynn, is unbelievable considering her young age and allows insight into why she has been such a successful actress for such a long period of time. She plays the part to perfection, emotive and strinking in her delivery of minimalist dialogue, she carries the film on her fourteen year old back. Martin Sheen adds a macabre and sinister cloud to the movie that while at times feels forced is important to the progression of the movie as well as the characters in it.

I found myself extremely uncomfortable at times and can see why the film hasn’t really seen wide re-releases in recent years. The subject matter is taboo and for good reason and there are scenes that don’t make for an easy viewing time. Regardless of that, this is a film that shows such an impressive performance that it should really be seen.

It could be said that movies like Hard Candy exist because of this one, bringing an incredibly vile subject into the public eye. The movie has more layers than such films though, dealing with much more than the creepy predator and rather continuing while that sub-plot exists.

A score that adds to the tension and a setting that is small and authentic looking, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is a very hard film to rate, perhaps due to it’s sensitive plot or because there is a vast mixture of levels of quality when it comes to the performances, with Martin Sheen appearing too cheesy for his disgusting character at times, and the character of Mario seeming tacked on to add something neat and tidy to the mix. Regardless though, I do urge you to see this film. It’s on Netflix streaming in both the US and the UK and is only 93 minutes long.

This is the sort of movie that doesn’t come along often, and that’s a good thing. I don’t mean that in a negative way, rather meaning that the power of such films exists because they are few and far between. I wont even rate this movie or give it a star rating. I thought it was a brilliantly atmospheric film with a tension seldom seen in most of modern cinemas thrillers. The performances are mostly good or great and there are enough twists in the plot to keep most entertained. Just prepare for moments of discomfort and leave the cup of tea until later.

One Response to “Rewind: ‘The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane’ Review (1976)”

  • Jodie Foster is my favourite actress and it’s a shame she doesn’t do so much these days. I haven’t seen this movie and I think I would find the subject matter quite upsetting, but it’s definately one to remember and perhaps watch when I’m feeling brave enough.