Holler (2020) Review – Nicole Riegel Delivers A Powerful Film That Deserves More Attention

Holler (2020)

“Not just another Hixploitation Film”

Synopsis: Hoping to pay for college, a determined young woman lands a dangerous job working in a scrap metal yard during a brutal winter. With her goal in sight, she soon finds herself torn between a promising future and the family she would leave behind.

Americans have this almost fetishistic-obsession with peering into the lives of those that find themselves living at or well below the poverty line. Similar to an old-timey sideshow, viewers pay their money to see grotesque displays of voyeurism. Perhaps when we see people who are worse off, it makes us feel better about our own situation. This isn’t a new trend in cinema with examples from low-budget fare dubbed ‘hixploitation’.

The Grindhouse Database gives this definition for the subgenre: Hixploitation/Hicksploitation genre movies were created to exploit the cultural stereotypes of Rural American southerners who were/are often regarded as “hillbillies”, “crackers” and “yokels”. The subject matter in these films usually dealt with outlaw moonshiners, deranged weirdos and racist rednecks (and sometimes combinations of all of those). What makes Hixploitation cinema so entertaining is how it gives viewers a look at the lifestyles of country folk be it good, bad or ugly.

We see this example in low budget films like Scum of the Earth (1974) and even big-budget ‘Oscar-bait’ like Hillbilly Elegy, which, let’s be honest, is “classed-up” but is just another film in this genre.

Holler was released the same year as Elegy (minus the fan-fare and supposed pedigree), but I think that it does a much better job at tackling the material. Though Holler may flirt with the subgenre, there are some key differences that make it a cut-above its big budget counterpart. What impressed me most was writer/director Nichole Riegel not only comes at this with a deeply personal, female perspective but her lens never judges anyone, specifically our viewpoint character of Ruth. Furthermore, there is never this over-the-top hamminess that Hillbilly Elegy unabashedly languishes in. What we get is a somber, thoughtful meditation on the struggles of the lower-class but never in a way that feels cheap, voyeuristic, or like schadenfreude-escapism. Riegel doesn’t make Ruth or the people in her life out as some saintly, working-class heroes nor does she paint them as strange, backwards people. It’s this very worldview that is so clearly defined and, in my opinion offers a richer and more challenging viewing experience. Maybe more impressive is that this is Riegel’s first feature film, based on a short of the same name. With the right kind of breaks I can see this filmmaker being the next big thing in Hollywood.

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Speaking of talent, this movie has an excellent cast. In lead is Jessica Barden. Barden is tasked with being our central character and also a main source of the emotional core. Barden does a fantastic job at portraying Ruth in a way that feels painfully real and not artificial. This also includes a great supporting cast including Pamela Adlon, Austin Amelio, Becky Ann Baker and Gus Halper, just to name a few. I could go on and on about the moody camera work, the realistic production design and overall oppressive feel that Rigel manages to craft on a budget. But, when it comes down to it, Holler is a snapshot of people struggling to make ends meet during a time when billionaires are trying to go to space for bragging rights. It’s a timely message on poverty-stricken people without the, “Look at the poor people!

Aren’t they weird” bad-aftertaste. A film that sadly isn’t getting a lot of buzz but will someday when we usher in Nicole Riegel as the next Kathryn Bigelow.

Holler - Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films

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