Review: Trying to make it out of dead-end Ohio in gritty drama 'Holler'

Teenager finds herself running out of options in writer-director Nicole Riegel's feature debut.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The hardships of making it in (and out of) rural America take center stage in "Holler," a gritty drama about the harsh realities of living in today's economy. 

Jessica Barden stars as Ruth, a teenager in southern Ohio who hopes to go to college and escape her downtrodden town. Along with her brother, Blaze (Gus Halper) she joins a scrapping crew, hoping to scrape together enough money for her future — or just to avoid the eviction that notices on her front door are threatening. 

Jessica Barden in "Holler."

But she's torn. It's her brother that applies to college for her in her name. Her beaten down mentality, due to her surroundings and circumstances, has her feeling like she's no better than her town, and who is she to expect more out of life?

She has a strained relationship with her mother (Pamela Adlon), who is in county jail on drug charges; she'll visit her, but they don't speak. Ruth toughs it out, but it's Blaze who sees an out for her. And as the dangers of scrapping increase, her window to get out of town scot-free is closing. 

Writer-director Nicole Riegel, who hails from Jackson, Ohio, and based "Holler" on her own 2016 short film, shoots on Super 16, which lends the film an extra layer of grainy realism. The smoke stacks, grey skies and Midwestern muck manage to look even more bleak through Riegel's lens.  

Occasionally a Trump soundbite, one in particular of him saying "jobs, jobs, jobs," trickles through and lends the film a stamp of timeliness. Barden's central performance is as tough and honest as the film calls for, and even if a closing riff feels slightly borrowed from "Good Will Hunting," "Holler" is a solid entry in the Midwest Desolation canon. If it makes you want to holler, it's doing its job.




Rated R: for language and sexual references

Running time: 90 minutes

Available On Demand