THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE *** USA 2019 Dir: John Oak Dalton. 76 mins
Writer-director John Oak Dalton’s Indiana-set regional horror film is a thoughtful and witty story built around the survivor of a slasher / torture movie ordeal, a little in the vein of the excellent LAST GIRL STANDING. Unusual in its disinterest in the minutiae of killing and suffering (the ordeal of the survivor is fleetingly glimpsed in discreet flashbacks), it instead offers a vivid snapshot of small-town secrets, quirks and depravity. Therapist Joni Durian is back to the town where she grew up, derided by her unfaithful husband (John Bradley Hambrick) as a haven for paint-huffing hillbillies. Town marshal Tom Cherry wants her to help a young woman (Erin R Ryan) who fled captivity from the infamous local psychopath (his handiwork already optioned for a movie) and now spends her days wandering around town and her nights sleeping in the park.
Dalton’s film unfolds in the everyday banality of an authentically faded small town: missing posters, no cell / Uber service, abandoned small businesses and a proliferation of internal prejudices and suicides lurking beneath the service. It taps a rich vein of humour in the routine gossip about the local Amish folk taking off their beards so they can drink and fuck -and in the meetings of the town’s gaming group, where debates flair up between people who call themselves Princess Tangerine Dreamscape and Dagon Skinflare. Ryan’s love of old Spaghetti westerns adds to an engaging stream of pop culture references and the oddly poignant detail that, while imprisoned and fearing for her life, she wrote Klaus Kinski slash fiction and a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie script. Both Durian and Ryan impress in their well-written roles, and Hambrick is amusingly unlikeable as a bitter hack stuck writing scripts for rubbish franchises, including “Resting Bitch Face Massacre Part 4”. Those expecting a typical slasher fest may be disappointed, but the film’s technical modesty suits the low-key approach and it’s an absorbing peek behind the curtain of a tiny town that suffered the kind of horrors whose aftermath is typically glossed over by the sub-genre.
Review by Steven West