“A snapshot of what growing up working class in Trump’s America can be.”
Precariousness of employment in America is something of a hot topic at the moment. With a President repeatedly promising more jobs despite record unemployment, Nicole Riegel’s debut Holler (2020) looks into the heart of industrial America and creates a coming of age film that captures the essence of Trump’s presidency.
The film stars Jessy Barden (The End of the F***ing World) as Ruth, a high school senior who, along with her brother, Blaze, played by Gus Halper (Cold Pursuit), lives in stark conditions. Ruth discovers that she has been accepted into college, a life changing opportunity that she cannot afford, so her and Blaze join a dangerous scrap metal crew, led by Austin Amelio’s Hark (The Walking Dead).
With a hint of Ken Loach and a dash of Five Easy Pieces (1970), Riegel’s film has a quiet anger that blows through the film like a harsh wind. The film’s cold setting along with the harsh metal its characters are often handling gives it an icy feel, but not one without heart. The relationship between Ruth and her brother is touching, and the addition of long-time plant worker, Linda (Becky Ann Baker), to the group adds a touch of humour and strength. None of the film’s characters are ever self-pitying because they don’t have time to be, their world is one that could spiral out of hand very easily, so any way to keep their heads above water is deemed fair. The sense of solidarity between characters given their similar situations is heavily apparent, until we delve into the realm of the scrap metal crews. Riegel has these crews appear tough but not tyrannical as they are not the main villain; his voice is saved for the airwaves and the television, and this is left in no doubt to the audience.
The film’s stand out performance is, of course, Jessy Barden, who brings the sharpness and defensive aspects we have seen from her role in The End of the F***ing World, but grounds them in a new sense of reality. Ruth knows what things going wrong can mean, she lives her life in very strict limits, and opportunities such as college do not come often or easily. Barden hints at Ruth’s fragility just enough with her anxious mannerisms yet pushes us back with wit and self-assuredness.
The film’s music composed by Gene Back, along with a gorgeous soundtrack featuring Phoebe Bridgers, pushes the film slightly away from the hardcore realism its subject matter could easily slide into, and instead provides potent and graceful accompaniment to Ruth’s journey. Although this initially felt like slightly too much, Back’s music grows into the film, emphasising the strength of Ruth and her family.
Expanding her 2016 short film of the same name, Nicole Riegel creates a film that delivers a snapshot of what growing up working class in Trump’s America can be with Holler. Direct but not didactic, and balancing harsh truths with wonderful shows of love and humour, Holler is a feature debut that impresses with its singular vision and biting criticisms.
Holler was shown as part of TIFF Industry Selects.