Immaculate Conception — Light-hearted This Time

in 5th PKO Off Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Maricke Nieuwdorp

Can one get pregnant from a rock and roll song? In Electrick Children, Rachel, a 15-year old Mormon girl discovers a song on her father’s highly forbidden cassette recorder on which he — the man is also the local pastor — records the confessions of faith and chastity of the young members of his congregation, which is located somewhere in the highly religious parts of Southern Utah. Whenever she can, angel-like, curly blonde-haired Rachel visits their basement to pick up the cassette recorder and listens to this hypnotic rock song, which could be from the seventies or eighties. Then, the magic happens: Rachel is pregnant, and she insists it is from this particular song. Is it an immaculate conception? Is one of her family members or neighbouring boys the father? The Holy Spirit? We will never know. Bravely enough, the young girl drives up to the over-worldly Las Vegas, on a journey to find the man behind the voice of this mysterious song. She, hungry for life, ends up in an alternative group of youngsters who live for music and skating.

From the moment Electrick Children premiered in the Generation 14-plus program in this year’s Berlin Film Festival, the positive buzz around this extremely fresh, warm-hearted and original American independent drama from director Rebecca Thomas was coming to life. Later this year, the lovely film was shown at the SXSW festival in Austin (US) and was also programmed in the ‘Making Way’-competition during this year’s Off Plus Camera International Festival of Independent Cinema. This year’s FIPRESCI Jury chose this feature debut of Thomas as the unanimous winner of the FIPRESCI Critics’ Prize.

The jury found several elements in this coming of age-drama particularlyinteresting and highly original al the same time. Although the theme of this film could possibly have ended up in a melodrama, Electrick Children never reaches this level. Even better, the storyline remains unexpected, fresh and — we loved that! — light-hearted. Rachel (a wonderful and promising Julia Garner) is an intelligent, engagingly naïve, warm-hearted young woman who, in spite of her strict upbringing, is surprisingly open, and curious for everything and everyone she meets. No wonder that whomever who gets to know her, treats her in a gentle way. Furthermore, Rachel’s taped diary is never used as an easy way to explain things in the voice over that was not clear from the script. The honest, sweet voice of this life-discovering young woman only strengthens this story. Especially when edited in combination with some of the often breathtaking shots in this drama.

Director Rebecca Thomas (born 1984) grew up in a Mormon family herself, although it was not the extremist kind. But in the area around them, several fundamentalist Mormon households existed, who completely excluded themselves from any form of modern society. That, of course, intrigued the young filmmaker. With her obvious personal links with the Mormon culture, she also decided to make up some of the rules and habits in the particular Mormon society in her film. Even though these kinds of Mormon communities have to endure lots of criticism from ‘the outside’, Thomas manages to block out any form of her possible judgements. Even the parents, who are the ones to choose this kind of lifestyle, are human and believable in their faith, as well as in their way of raising their children – and loving them. Their securities and doubts are depicted in a warm, subtle and seemingly honest way.

In the end, the viewer is struck by this non-erasable smile on his or her face and with this catchy cover of Blondie’s song ‘Hanging on the Telephone’. Prepare: months later, you still will be singing this!