Due to the lackluster parenting of single mother Krysstal (Ashley Rebecca Moore), young Gemma (Breazy Diduck-Wilson) often finds herself looking out for her younger brother Harley (Annika Elyse Irving). For the most part, it’s not too daunting to deal with mom’s flakiness, but everything gets launched to a new level when Mom goes out on a date to a party with the latest in a series of questionable mates, bringing along the two children and making them wait in the backseat of the car.
Unfortunately, Mom and her beau are fighting by the time they get back to the car and, on the ride to another party, Mom is ditched by the side of the road. When it becomes clear slightly later that the children are still in the backseat, Captain Responsibility ditches them by the side of the road too. Thus Harley and Gemma are forced to sleep in the woods overnight, and the next day their wandering leads them to a farmhouse and its owner, Brendon (Tony Porteous).
For the most part, Brendon seems helpful. He makes sure they’re well-fed, lets Gemma call home whenever she wants, though with never an answer on the other end, and the three start a weird family unit in the middle of nowhere. That is, until Brendon’s brother shows up, and other clues start to show that Brendon may not be as great as Harley and Gemma originally thought.
Danishka Esterhazy’s H & G is a modern, rural take on the classic Hansel and Gretel story, though if you’re waiting for Brendon to eat his two housemates then you’re missing the point; it’s not that type of adaptation. Instead it’s the cleverness and innocence of children up against the evil, or perhaps just the irresponsibility and incompetence, of adults.
There’s an ominous suspense to the film because you know that there must be something “off” about the entire farm experience (I mean, just because the phone calls to Mom aren’t getting answered, it’s not like Brendon couldn’t just call the cops instead), but the film also moves at a deliberate pace, striking an eerie calm throughout. It’s a weird tonal experience, because, as an audience, your guard is up and you’re waiting for something horrible to happen but, at the same time, the film is taking its good time getting anywhere. Thus, it’s a state of heightened uncomfortableness.
Which is both a plus and a minus for the film. It’s a plus because of how affecting it is, and how much you care about these two children that you don’t really know all that well. It’s a minus because there’s nary a moment of relief, and being uncomfortable for so long is rough. So I appreciate the film’s power, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again.
Compliments are due to the two child actors for doing such a great job in their roles. Sure, Irving’s Harley mostly just whines about being hungry all the time, and Diduck-Wilson’s Gemma is mostly tolerating his complaints, but it works because you buy that they’re siblings, and that even though the circumstances are different, their interactions and relationship with each other hasn’t changed at all. Gemma is still looking out, and Harley is still innocently accepting everything as good first, with suspicions late to the table.
Tony Porteous also puts in a quality performance as a character that you never quite get a proper read on. At times you imagine your nightmares about his potential for wrong could be realized, and other times you just wonder if he’s a lonely hermit looking to have a family around him that isn’t drunk and disorderly. Then again, there is something going on with him and, at one point in the film, you get enough of a glimpse to want the children out of that house as soon as possible, whether they truly understand their potential danger or not.
Overall, H & G is a strong film, but you’ll need to exercise patience with it. It has a leisurely pace, and it sticks with it; a calm drama that rarely erupts, but is always uneasy.
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