• Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane, The

    Released by: Kino Lorber/Scorpion Releasing
    Released on: May 10th, 2016.
    Director: Nicolas Gessner
    Cast: Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Scott Jacoby
    Year: 1976
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    The Movie:

    Director Nicolas Gessner's THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE has always been one of the great overlooked thrillers from the me decade. Structured like a stage play, this film is a masterfully constructed slow burn with an intriguing premise bolstered by exceptional performances - top-lined by a young Jodie Foster at the peak of her abilities as a child actress.

    13 year old Rynn Jacobs lives alone in a tidy seaside house on a secluded lane. Her father - an ill poet from England - took Rynn to this small town to set her up to live alone after his death. The whole reasoning is kept purposefully vague, but it has a lot to do with Rynn's abusive mother who she's been estranged from since her parent's divorce. The father also had a distinctively antiauthoritarian worldview tinged with some paranoia and desired that his brilliant daughter not be placed under the thumb of callous adults upon his death.

    We first see Rynn on Halloween celebrating her birthday alone with a cake that she's made. We are pretty sure her father is gone but we don't know what happened. It's an intriguing setup that appeals to every child rebelling against parental authority as well as a good mystery. The first threat we see manifested is local man Frank Hallet - a married father who is clearly a child molester but has remained protected due to his wealthy and connected mother (who also happens to be the real estate agent in charge of the Jacobs house). His initial visit to the house where he acts inappropriately with Rynn is quite disturbing. Later, the second threat appears - which is Frank's mother. Mrs. Hallet (Alexis Smith) is a bigoted busybody, and she has a very tense initial encounter with Rynn where the girl manages to artfully dodge the realtor's questions about her father. While Rynn is trying to deal with these two, some friendlier faces enter her world - a charming young man with a limp and an obsession with magic named Mario (Scott Jacoby) and a sweet- tempered local cop. Officer Miglioriti (Mort Shuman) comes by the house a couple of times and buys the stories about Dad working but eventually gets suspicious.

    The film is a pretty nifty mystery so giving away much more would spoil it. Suffice to say that people start going missing and a couple of accidents occur. We also start to realize just how crafty this little girl is and what she's had to do to ensure her survival and the ability to continue living exactly the way she wants to.

    I first saw THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE on TV late at night as a young teen. I identified strongly with Foster's brilliant character and her rebellious streak. On one level, Rynn is a sociopath, but on another one she's a genius protecting herself from genuine threats. Foster's circumspect performance has an onion-like quality to it - the more you peel the more you see. The budding romance between her and the polio afflicted young magician is tender a and well written. I don't even have any particular problem with the infamous underage love scene. It's presented quite matter-of-a-factly and there's nothing salacious about it. Moving on to the film's other performances, the acting from Sheen in particular is notable. His character brings the film closest to the "horror" genre. It's a difficult role and he manages to make your skin crawl without doing anything explicit. Smith does the bitchy society lady to perfection and Shuman is genuinely likable. Jacoby is almost as good as Foster at being believable.

    THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE was shot in Canada and looks fantastic. The autumnal palette is captured vividly and the cinematography is outstanding. The house, the beach and the forlorn woods seen so often in the movie are captivating. Gessner's film is a great isolated country house mood piece and despite the occasionally stodgy stage play aesthetic it works perfectly as a sinister drama. The perfect film for a late wintry evening.


    THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE made its Blu ray debut in the U.K., but Kino's edition trumps it in a few key areas. It has a marginally higher bit rate and therefore less compression (though truthfully you'd be hard pressed to notice). The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p 1.85:1 has a strong natural appearance that shines most on the film's many closeups. Pores are visible on faces and the gorgeous natural scenery has a vibrant appearance. Color reproduction is excellent and film grain looks normal. This is also a clean print, so element damage is negligible. This is a pretty significant upgrade over the old DVD.

    The 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio track is also nicely done. Range isn't huge, but the film's alternately haunting and jarring score is presented without any distortion or flaws. All dialog is clear.

    There are three notable extras on this release. The first, and most valuable is a director commentary. This is a USA exclusive and it's a terrific one. Gessner doesn't waste any time narrating what's onscreen. He's got a lot to say about almost every aspect of production. From the controversy with Jodie Foster to the music to Martin Sheen to optioning the project, Gessner has a lot of interesting information to impart. He talks quite a bit about Lard Koenig's original novel and the differences between it and the film as well as how the movie's tricky animal scenes were handled. Despite Gessner's French accent, he's quite lively and easy to understand. This is a great commentary track. Next stop is Martin Sheen for a half hour one-on-one interview. He's a lot of fun and very generous with the interviewer. This is a great chat and he has a lot to say about many different things – but the focus is mostly on LITTLE GIRL. The most interesting stuff in the interview centers on how sheen approached the character. The actor has some interesting ideas about what it takes to be a well-rounded performer and how to approach villainous characters. Finally, Sheen and Gessner are united for a Skype chat. Both are very complementary towards each other and it's a fun sentimental moment despite the technical limitations of how it was done.

    The Final Word:

    An overlooked gem, THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE gets my highest possible recommendation. Mysterious, strange and unique this is a film that holds up to repeated viewings. And Kino's package is excellent with strong AV and good supplements. Buy.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!