In the tradition of the recent spate of confrontational ‘The Girl’ films, comes Girl from Nowhere, an indie erotic thriller from writer-director Mark Jackson. Instead of a girl with a dragon tattoo, we are introduced to a troubled drifter by the name of Liza, who hitches a ride with a Cape Town couple on their way to their mountain getaway. Taking pity on the sassy desert flower, their decision to give her a ride takes a turn for the worse.
Girl from Nowhere stars a captivating trio made up of Tamryn Speirs, Scott Cooper, and Christia Visser in her debut performance. Filmed in a two week window on a shoestring budget and under some grueling weather conditions, you can forgive the cast for some of the rough edges to their performances. Visser is a diamond in the rough here, using her screen presence to unearth a sassy, devious and manipulative performance as Liza. Speirs tackles the role of the suspicious Katherine, a film producer, who develops a fascination with Liza despite her jealousy over her young hunk’s infatuation. Cooper plays Hugh, a fairly affable, good-looking yet narcissistic lead actor trying to get ahead no matter the cost.
Set in the Cederberg Mountains, Girl from Nowhere features some majestic views of the Western Cape, showcasing South Africa as a world class film destination. From a desolate holiday home to rocky outcrops and meandering highways, the harsh yet versatile environment could have been used for anything from a dusty romantic comedy to a survival horror film. Using an intriguing premise to exact his gritty independent thriller, Jackson sets up an uneasy love triangle in which a hitchhiker becomes a temptress and siren.
The thriller could be described as a blend of Lolita and U-Turn. The eroticism and drama revolving around the young wily temptress echoes classic taboo themes from Kubrick’s film, while it has a similar tendency toward the deadpan comedy and thriller of Oliver Stone’s U-Turn in terms of tone. The strange tonal balancing act keep it intriguing and even entertaining in bursts, while its low budget, indie status keep it unpredictable. The characters are fairly haphazard, driven by their devil-may-care attitudes and teasing at a number of possible thriller scenarios. While there are some good moments, Girl from Nowhere struggles to establish a consistent tone, grounded characters and a clear vision.
“Like you said, I’m completely harmless.”
It could have been more surreal and checked into the territory of Nocturnal Animals. While Jackson adds some nuance to the characters and composition, it’s scattered in an attempt to be coherent as a narrative. The time constraints around getting the film together make some scenes rickety, muddled and unintentionally funny. The provocative themes around sexuality and patriarchy keep this madcap mystery thriller on the boil as we navigate through flirtatious, drug-fueled interludes. At times it seems like a Land Rover advert shifting down a few gears into the space of a Southern Comfort commercial. The free-ranging dialogue and titillation factor keep you guessing as Jackson moves from light escapist fare to some darker, more disturbing psychological thrills.
Girl from Nowhere is backed by an inventive South African soundtrack, which adds weight to the production, showcasing music from Nick Turner and Jonny Blundell, as well as tracks from some amazing local talents including: Ann Jangle, Fiona Hare, Simon van Gend, Original Swimming Party and Ashton Gardner. The music adds caliber and a western grindhouse edge in a similar fashion to Quentin Tarantino’s films making them seem like a definite influence.
While Girl from Nowhere has heaps of potential, it’s ultimately restrained by its low budget and time constraints, turning what should have been a brooding and desolate erotic thriller into a wacky and twisted detour into the countryside. As courageous as they are, the actors are pressured into makeshift performances, the choices are limited by speed of shooting and the loose film-making results in a curious, meandering yet messy feature film for Jackson. There’s enough spit and polish to get this one through to the credits with a few glimpses of what it could have been. It’s great to see Jackson going his own way, but it will be better to see what he’s truly capable of with Girl from Nowhere ever-present in the rear view mirror.
The bottom line: Gritty