In the 70s movie The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane, we meet a mysterious 13-year-old girl, Rynn Jacobs who is played by Jodie Foster. As the movie begins, we learn that she has many secrets. Furthermore, we learn, too, that she lives alone, and she just wants her own home; however, she must deal with the emotionally abusive Hallets. Notably, the movie touches on many new social issues that were kept under wraps in the 1970s. Perhaps, most shockingly, Rynn could be a monster, a child serial killer.
To start, in the movie, Rynn probably is a serial killer. First, by her account, her dad died from some sickness, but we never learn about the true cause of his death since no autopsy was ever done; so, you wonder if Rynn killed him. Also, Rynn talks about her mother disappearing; nevertheless, we learn Rynn poisoned her. Plus, the landlady bangs her head and Rynn lets her die. As well, Rynn makes her boyfriend bury the landlady in the rain and he ends up with a fever, which almost kills him; so did Rynn plan his death too?. Finally, in order not to be exposed as a young girl living alone and killing Cora Hallet, Rynn poisons the town creep (Martin Sheen) black mailing her. Certainly, Rynn has killed people, but it never comes to the surface that she is a serial killer.
However, as this movie begins, for a 13-year-old, Rynn seems very independent and smart. She pays her rent. She does her banking. She takes care of all her bills. She buys all her food. She even studies Hebrew while alone. She seems very reasonable, rational, and logical. Rynn doesn’t need anyone.
Nevertheless, she has constant problems with people. First, a realtor won’t stay out of her home. Also, an uninvited creep keeps coming over. In the 70s, tenants had little rights, which the movie highlights too.
That being said, the movie also suggests child themes, which were coming to light in the 1970s. Such themes include child abuse, neglect, and abandonment. These child themes were present in this movie.
Also, the movie dealt with criminal children. For example, Rynn did many criminal acts in this movie. That being said, today, there are many children serving life sentences without parole; moreover, there are many incorrigible children serving indefinite sentences in prisons. This movie touched on the issue of criminal children.
When it comes to dark themes, this movie adds family abuse, which was mainly hidden in the 1970s. For example, where is Rynn’s father, mother, or even the extended family? Certainly, the family wasn’t watching her, which can be labelled neglect. Perhaps, this was the goal of the movie to bring this new issue to the forefront in the seventies.
In addition to family abuse, this movie suggests generational cycles of abuse. First, you see the emotionally abusive Cora Hallet (the local cougar) and Frank Hallet (Cora’s son and local sex offender). Also, you see a promiscuous Rynn and Mario ages apart. This movie suggests cycles of abuse across generations.
As with any cycle of abuse, the movie could suggest a possible hidden incestuous relationship between Rynn and her father. In one scene, the character of the father is called into question when Mario asks Rynn about what kind of a father leaves a child alone. Later, in another scene, Rynn becomes uncomfortable when Sheen asks Mario why he doesn’t like girls his own age. At this point, Rynn quickly changes the topic between Sheen, Mario, and herself, as if deeply disturbed about a sexual relationship with an older person. That being said, we only hear Rynn’s positive story about her father, but the other half of the story is missing, which could be an incestuous relationship between Rynn and her father.
Because there was generational abuse in the family, this movie touched on the issue of youth promiscuity. Rynn is only 13 years old. She has a boyfriend, and they are sexually active. Youth promiscuity was a new issue in the 1970s.
Moreover, this movie suggests youth criminality. In one scene, we see Rynn hiding evidence like an umbrella, a car, and a body. She does these criminal acts with little emotion.
As well, this movie looks at the issue of youth sex offenders, which was swept under the rug by the law in the 1970s. For example, a police officer makes a comment to Mario, saying: “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Here, the officer looks the other way while a minor and a young adult drink wine alone.
Obviously, this movie suggests child exploitation. Sheen is exploiting a child, who is a minor who can’t agree to consent. Also, Mario is exploiting a child. This movie highlights child exploitation, which is a criminal act when done to a minor.
That being said, in 1982, five years after this movie, New York v. Ferber banned child exploitation. In Ferber, the US Supreme Couret said the state had an interest in banning any material to protect children from child exploitation. No more would states allow the exploitation of children under 16.
It should be said that this movie pushes the limits on child exploitation. In one scene, Rynn can be seen with Mario in an obscene scene. However, the producers of this movie used a body double when it came to this part of the movie involving a minor.
While this film deals with serious social issues of the day, this movie is funny, too, because of a noisy realtor. Mrs. Cora Hallet is the cheeky realtor for the owner. Hallet rents the house to Rynn’s dad. Hallet drops by whenever she wants. She picks the grapes without permission. She moves furniture around in the house without asking. Plus, she’s romantically interested in Rynn’s absent dad. You wonder about tenant’s rights in this movie.
Cora Hallet likes to tell lies. For example, she lies to Rynn about being a school board member, saying: “You’re 13. Why aren’t you in school? Thirteenth means you should be in school. Look at me when I speak to you. So happens I am a member of the school board. We meet on Monday. They’ll be very interested in your case.”
However, the town hall registry officer contradicts Hallet. The officer says: “Twice monthly. No, the board meets again a week from Thursday. These are the bylaws. And if you need any further help.”
Later, Hallet continues to lie to Rynn about being a school board member. She says: “Hello. I may come in. We had a meeting at the school board this morning. I spoke to them about you. I must say, when they heard about your case they were very interested. Very interested in your case. You don’t want to hear what the said?” However, Rynn knows Hallet is lying and plays it cool.
In one of the scenes, Rynn comes clean about killing her mother.
“By lying to my father’s publisher. She walked right in. Finger nails as red as ever. My god, the nerve of her. She sat right over there. Smoked her gold tipped cigarettes. Went on and on about the pollution in the Mediterranean. And how marvelous it would be to stay here. I hated myself for doing it, but I actually acted happy to see her. She asked me for a drink. But I lied and told her we didn’t have any. I gave her some tea with the same almond biscuits. My father had given me a small bottle containing some white powder. He said if she should arrive, I should put it in her tea. Calm her, make her less aggressive… No, not until after. I looked it up based on it’s properties: potassium cyanide. My father meant what he said about doing anything you have to do to survive. I can still see her red nails holding about that cup. After a few minutes, she said the tea tasted of almonds.
Interestingly, Mario had a good question for Rynn. He says, “How did your father send that letter? Since when do fathers let kids do what they want?” Logically, Mario knows the logic of Rynn’s story doesn’t fit when Rynn remains quiet about her father.
Toward the end of the movie, the cop returns to inspects tracks at Ryn’s house while dropping bad news on Rynn. The Cop says, “You know, I can’t figure you out at all. You haven’t even asked me about Mario. He’s in the hospital. Pneumonia. Well, without the antibiotics, he would of died.” This cop is catching on about Rynn’s murders
Incidentally, in an early scene, the cop doesn’t believe Rynn’s story about her missing dad. He searches around Rynn’s house while she goes for money to pay for a raffle ticket. We learn he suspects something, but he doesn’t have probable cause for a search warrant; however, he snoops around while she’s upstairs for anything in plain view. Nonetheless, he doesn’t find anything suspicious, so he leaves the house.
It’s only toward the end of the movie that we learn Rynn has feelings. “Mario. I love you. My father worked it it all out. How I would live. What I would do. But it can’t work. It can’t work without you. He was wrong.” She admits to having feelings for him. Perhaps, this serial killer finally developed some feelings.
At the end of the movie, Rynn does a magic trick of her own by killing Sheen. When he’s not looking, she puts cyanide on cookies while making it look like she’s putting it in the tea. Rynn is the real magician in this movie.
Notably, Rynn was a serial killer in the book. In the book, Rynn closes the basement door and feeds gas to Mrs. Cora Hallet. Mrs. Cora Hallet dies by Rynn’s hand in the novel, which the movie was based on.
Overall, I liked the movie because it was scary, mysterious, and creepy; additionally, it touched on many new social issues of the 70s, which were mainly hidden in society. Plus, it makes you wonder what could be going on down the street, so this movie may be worth a watch.