Rynn and her father have just moved into a lovely house in a small village in Maine. Rynn’s father is a rather famous poet and several people in town are eager to meet him. But Rynn’s father seems to be a bit of a recluse. Every time someone comes around asking about him, Rynn tells them he’s either working and can’t be disturbed or he’s out of state on business. Rynn doesn’t seem to mind her isolation one bit, but her secretive behaviors and standoffish personality start to raise the suspicions of her small-town neighbors who are convinced she’s hiding something. But unknown to them, Rynn is determined to maintain her peaceful seclusion….at any cost.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a Canadian/French co-production from 1976. It’s probably best described as a psychological thriller with strong horror elements, but the film also has elements of mystery and romance thrown in, so nailing down the exact genre could be a bit debateable. But since it feels like such a dark character portrait and a nice, brooding thriller I’m going to stick to my first assessment. Little Girl was actually the fifth film lead Jodie Foster starred in in 1976, which also included Bugsy Malone, Freaky Friday, Taxi Driver and Echoes of a Summer. Of the five, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane may be one of her least well-known, and her least favorite due to the reported issues she had during the production. Which is quite understandable considering the nude scene and a hamster getting thrown into a fire pit (Hell, I’d have taken huge issue with both those things too). But that doesn’t mean she didn’t do a bang-up job on it.
Foster does an impressive job of playing a girl (who was her own age, by the way) in very difficult circumstances. Rynn is a calm and intelligent girl, who has clearly traveled the world and is used to being pretty self-sufficient. She is also respectful to those who deserve it, and snippy to those who try to unnecessarily cross her boundaries. Her one downside, and this is something other characters in the film seem to notice as well, is that at times she almost seems far too intelligent for a 13-year-old. Even the kindly Officer Ron Miglioriti, who comes to check up on Rynn from time to time comments that she “has an answer for everything.” It seems he’s just as skeptical of Rynn as the audience is made to be. But it is also this disbelief that comes back to haunt certain characters later in the film that makes her intelligence and maturity seem ever more intentional. And Foster pulls it all off with a believability and sincerity that belies her years. Which is more than I can say for the horrible false teeth and wig they made her wear.
I don’t blame you, Jodie. I blame the costume department.
But Jodie Foster isn’t the only impressive performance here. The entirety of the main cast is truly excellent. Mort Shuman is the perfect kindly, though still slightly suspicious, small town officer. Scott Jacoby is wonderful as the eccentric youthful outcast Mario, whose compassion and understanding are so genuine that even the suspicious Rynn ends up tearing her emotional walls down and trusting him completely. Then there’s Martin Sheen, who plays Frank, perhaps one of the creepiest creepers who’s ever creeped. His entire character is made all the worse because everyone in town seems to know full well of his pedophillic intentions, but end up doing jack-all about it. Instead their policy seems to be to just tell little girls to stay away from him, which I’m sure comes as small comfort to the female population in town, since Frank has a tendency to burst into your home whether you want him there or not. Then there’s Alexis Smith as Mrs. Hallet who, I gotta say, may be my favorite character of all. Smith only has two scenes in the entire film, but she is just so perfectly, gloriously irritating as the entitled, nosey neighbor who tries to intimidate and bully her way into Rynn’s house, and subsequently her solitude, that it’s just impossible not to be impressed by her. She’s such a perfect, arrogant asshole, that she ends up being the type of character you love to hate.
I’ve since read that there are some that view the film as a commentary on children’s rights, or childhood independence. I can really see where they’re coming from. Because what stood out to me most was the theme of respect. Or in this film’s case, the lack thereof. The lack of respect for Rynn’s intelligence, the lack of respect for her autonomy, the lack of respect for her home and general boundaries and the towns total lack of respect for the female population for letting a known creeper prey on young women instead of putting in any effort to stop him (damn the 70s). It should come as no surprise that the only people who show Rynn respect, namely Mario and Officer Ron Miglioriti, are also the people who earn her respect in turn. In Rynn’s own words “How old do you have to be before people start treating you like a person?” Good question. I’d say we should ask the filmmakers, but it’s clear from their insistence of including a child nude scene (which was filmed using a 21-year-old Connie Foster as a body double, but still), that they weren’t paying much attention to the film. But I think the answer should be: long before that point.
Don’t worry. I chucked them all over the edge. They’ll bother us no more.
Overall, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is an eerie little oddity in genre switching. It is simultaneously effective as a thriller, a drama, a mystery and a young love story. It’s perfectly acted, wonderfully atmospheric, and subtly creepy as all hell. The downside is that some are going to find the plausibility of Rynn’s adult-like mannerisms and actions a little hard to believe, though considering the events that shaped her, I personally didn’t think they were all that far out of the realm of possibility. The other obvious pitfall is the inclusion of that damn child nude scene, which was just completely unnecessary and filmed in a very voyeuristic way. Nineteen seventies or not, that’s just super creepy and I’m baffled as to its inclusion. But if you can put those concerns aside, however, then the film is an even paced and fun little mystery/thriller hybrid that should easily keep most fans of the genres entertained.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is available on a variety of streaming services.
It is also available on Bluray in North America and DVD in other territories.