The fading amber light, the waving green fields, the meandering young girl — “American Fable” opens on a pretty pastoral scene.
Still, as the gliding camera keeps pace with this girl, a strange undercurrent disturbs the air, creating pinpricks of doubt about just how tranquil the scene is. There’s something about how red her top looks in the golden light, something about the quiet, something that suggests the camera isn’t merely on the prowl but also out for blood.
It’s a nice opening for a movie that spirals into nonsense.
Everything looks right in place in Anne Hamilton’s “American Fable,” all measured and ready to go. There’s Gitty (Peyton Kennedy), a wide-eyed 11-year-old girl, who lives with her farmer parents, Abe and Sarah (Kip Pardue and Marci Miller), and oddly hostile older brother Martin (Gavin MacIntosh), on an isolated swath in the American heartland. It seems so peaceful or would if the wolf weren’t howling at Red Riding Hood’s door, bringing intimations of danger: angry talk, a slammed-down phone, a brandished ax and weird doings.
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Gitty doesn’t grasp what’s going on with the family’s farm, but, like so much in “American Fable,” her naiveté comes off as forced, scripted rather than innate. Even so, her confusion starts to make sense given this story, which turns on her involvement in a ludicrous kidnapping scheme that’s neither persuasively real enough to believe nor fantastical enough to work for the fairy tale that Hamilton seems to be trying to create. The introduction of an outsider (Richard Schiff), a hapless moneyman who’s disparagingly likened to an animal by a villain, is especially unfortunate because it flirts with an anti-Semitic stereotype.
This stereotype isn’t exploited, developed or renounced. It’s just yet another loose end that flutters in “American Fable” alongside the predictably doomed pet chicken; the equally ill-fated neighbor; the nod to Ronald Reagan; the snippet from Yeats; the portentously injured fawn; and the sleek mystery woman (Zuleikha Robinson) whose woo-woo vibe and long gloves read like a nod to Jean Cocteau’s film “Orpheus.” Hamilton also appears to have a fondness for Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter,” which finds echoes here in the otherworldly starry night, a diabolical figure on horseback and a psycho with knife skills.
(At Screenland Armour.)
Not rated. Time: 1:37.