Films that deliver strong moral parables have to do a lot to win me over...
...That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions or that the sentiments within aren’t important, but if you have something to say, you’d better say it with confident conviction. Writer/director Can Evrenol’s third feature length film, Girl with No Mouth didn’t necessarily win me over, but it’s not without its charisma and talent.
After a catastrophic toxic explosion caused by the acts of what’s known as “The Corporation,” the world has been left in war-torn ruins. Due to the toxic damage, babies were being born with severe disfigurements and ailments. Our central character, Perihan, (Elif Sevinç) was born with her mouth permanently sealed over with skin. Her and her father, (Sermet Yesil) “Baba”, have been living alone and managed to avoid capture from The Corporation for some time until Baba’s brother Kemal (Mehmet Yilmaz Ak) shows up unannounced and tries to coax the two into custody. Not going down without a fight, Baba tells Perihan to run and attacks Kemal to buy her time. Running deep into the surrounding forest, Perihan treks onward until she meets a strange bunch of boys dressed as pirates. She soon discovers that each boy has a deformity similar to her own. Captain, (Denizhan Akbaba) leader of the boys, is without eyes, and the rest of the boys are also missing different sensory body parts. Perihan decides to join Captain’s pirate group of lost boys, and they begin their march through the desolate wasteland. However, danger lurks all throughout the harsh environment and they must band together to survive.
On paper, Girl with No Mouth sounds very interesting, and its ideas most certainly are. The problem is, none of it comes together in its execution. I have trouble understanding who this film is for. On one hand, it exhibits elements of The Goonies (1985) and the classic tale of Peter Pan and his lost boys, but the film features heavy violence and highly adult themes not suited for children. The odd assortment of “pirates” seemed to be aimed at a younger demographic, especially since the majority of the film features the kids and their relationship to one another. Tonally, it feels very off, and that brings me to another issue; the pacing. The film starts out at a good clip, getting you right into Perihan’s harrowing adventure. However, after all the quirky pirates have introduced themselves, the charm starts to wear off. The middle of the film slows to a halt, mainly because there just isn’t enough going on. We get to know the characters a bit better, but they aren’t really going through anything eventful. We do learn more about The Corporation and the toxic explosion through Perihan picking up old newspapers, but I think it would have been much cooler if there were more physical evidence of the blast. There needed to be more than the pirates simply traveling and joking around, and for a lot of the film, that’s all we see. There is also a lack of conflict or fear of danger. The last act of the film does crank up the heat for the bunch, but it would have a much more significant impact had they endured more together throughout.
The message the story is trying to convey feels undercooked and hollow. We’re supposed to hate The Corporation, but we aren’t given enough information about them to fully ignite a justified rebellious attitude. We’re basically told they are bad because corporate greed and power leads to corruption and eventually societal disintegration. That sentiment alone may be true, but the film needed to tie that together in terms of how the story coincides. We know the children are victims of the explosion and are being hunted, but the message just isn’t that interesting or convincing to me. It also wasn’t connected in a way that came full circle, so by the end of the film you’re left with a message that’s muddled, unclear, and not impactful.
While the film does have its issues, there are things to appreciate here. Evrenol is no stranger to visual aptitude, as his directorial debut Baskin (2015) was a bit of an indie horror darling, boasting some truly memorable imagery. Girl with No Mouth is a looker in nearly every department. The costume design is the standout star, with an eclectic grouping of steampunk, military uniforms, and a collage of knick-knacks and tattered fabrics all pieced together to create a consistent look. It’s visual consistency that really sells the world they’re in. As I’ve already said, I wish we saw more of the dystopian hellscape, but the costumes reflect the state of the world seamlessly and vice versa. Most of what is shot is on location; if any sets were used, I was fooled completely. The art department and location scouters should be commended for their efforts. The musical score by Ulas Pakkan is exceptionally moody, offering a haunting dread beneath the surface of the light-hearted pirates. I definitely got a Trent Reznor vibe with the dark, synth-heavy distortion fused with a touching melodic theme.
Girl with No Mouth feels like a bit of an unbalanced experience. Its pacing issues and lack of eventful, weighty scenes dampen what is otherwise a very interesting story. Visually and artistically, the film manages to create a spectacle of atmosphere, even if the tone isn’t always on point. I do applaud any filmmaker for taking on the difficult job of writing and directing a film, because while it may not always turn out perfect, the ambition is admirable and the mark of someone who loves and respects storytelling. The film’s greatest strengths lie in its visuals, and that alone is worth a watch to appreciate.
Girl with No Mouth comes to Digital, Blu-ray and DVD from Indiecan Entertainment on December 8th.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth