The terror in Anne Hamilton's lyric heartland horror-thriller American Fable comes from the hard choices a farm family must make to keep life going back when America was great -- and of daughter Gitty's slow discovery of what they're capable of. Hamilton stages a midnight chase through the corn, a tense encounter in a hayloft and unsettling dream sequences of a devilish figure bestriding a stallion bestriding the plains. But she forgoes jump scares and splashes of gore. What's scary here: an unlocked gun cabinet; parents arguing about money; the way so many young men believe they can only express themselves through cruelty or violence.
Out on her bike one day Gitty (Payton Kennedy) discovers a man imprisoned in her family's old silo. He's a banker, an important man, quick to make promises: "If there was one thing that you wanted in the whole world, what would it be?" The banker (played with peppery desperation by The West Wing's Richard Schiff) becomes for her something like a playmate from another world, a Jewish E.T. teaching her chess and literature rather than magic-finger botany.
The film beguiles more than it thrills. Hamilton served as an intern on the set of The Tree of Life, and she clearly picked up some visual ideas: Amber tints the daytime shots, a honeyed glaze that seems to come from behind Gitty's eyes; at night, moonlight edges the blacks to rich blue, the shadows teeming with potential danger and magic. Here she crosses farmer's-revenge melodrama with coming-of-age reveries and found-a-genie fairy tale, balancing expressive location photography with her cast's low-key naturalism.