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By Natalia Winkelman | March 22, 2018

“I’ll try to do something exciting this week,” Sadie, a restless 13-year-old, writes in a letter to her father in the opening scene of Megan Griffiths’ relentlessly somber Sadie. The line proves to be an ominous promise. Played with ferocious intensity by breakout star Sophia Mitri Schloss, Sadie anchors the character study as a headstrong kid fighting to play gatekeeper for the trailer park community where she lives with her devoted mother, Rae (Melanie Lynskey). A sinister take on the familiar mom-and-daughter drama, Sadie winds and jerks towards a jarring end, leaving us to follow a series of breadcrumb clues along an often tedious — but occasionally fresh and unnerving — path behind.

At the film’s start, Sadie’s life is largely unexciting, consisting mostly of lounging around the RV park with her diffident best friend and neighbor, Francis (Keith L. Williams) and his wisecracking grandpa, Deak (Tee Dennard). Stubborn and surly, Sadie projects an undisguised disdain for any and all responsibilities, authority figures, and general rules of propriety. Her hero — and the only adult she admires and trusts — is her dad, whom Sadie hasn’t seen since he left to fight in Afghanistan years earlier. In his stead is Rae, who, after years of silence from her remote husband, is itching for a little excitement herself.

“…projects an undisguised disdain for any and all responsibilities, authority figures, and general rules of propriety.”

And it doesn’t take long to arrive: there’s new man-meat in the trailer zone. When a cute, young mechanic named Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.) moves in, he and Rae quickly hit it off. Sadie responds with familiar preteen passive aggression — the territorial child resisting her single mom’s fling is standard coming of age territory — but Griffiths takes the scenario a step further, nudging Sadie into a darkly disturbed realm. It’s here that we take a second look at Sadie’s affinity for gory movies, her readiness to lie to get the school bully suspended, her obsessive fantasies about joining her dad’s unit. Sometimes, the story suggests, there’s a thin line between ordinary angst and callous instability.

But the drama builds in fits and starts, hitting its stride somewhere in the third act before lurching into a dissonant, unearned denouement. Luckily, Schloss carries the film with her brazen, bright-eyed presence, thrown all the more into relief next to Lynskey’s practiced charm. These talented actors deserve better. Still, patchy as it is, Sadie has its exhilarating moments — bursts of clarity emanating from an intriguing premise and captivating central performance.

Sadie (2018) Written and directed by Megan Griffiths. Starring Sophia Mitri Schloss, Melanie Lynskey, Keith L. Williams, Tee Dennard, John Gallagher Jr. Sadie premiered at the 2018 SXSW FilmFestival in Narrative Feature competition.

Grade: B-

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