When this young brother and sister head out to the open Texas plain, their run-away gesture looks more like a grasp at adventure than a desperate flight for freedom. These nameless youngsters are eerily calm without parents, and the audience plays mute guardian to them as they build fires and ride bikes, all of which would be harmless if we were there to help. A quiet and oddly evocative film that gives as strong a regional feeling as Richard Linklater did with his 1991 Austin-made film Slacker, David Lowery's St. Nick provides plenty to marvel at, though its audience is a little hard to pinpoint.
Why they run is never addressed. Even when we see glimpses of the home they left, their reasons for escape aren't evident. Whatever the case, the kids run. They find a rustic farmhouse (the antithesis of childproofing) and move in. They locate the skeleton of a dog and give it a name. They cobble together a home and when the food runs out so too does the security of their isolation. The siblings don't speak much, nor do they have to; they understand each other.
The Boy (Tucker Sears) is the leader, he protects his little sister (Savannah Sears) who follows with trust. Her manner is blithely feminine; as if she knows her gender role is to be slight and demanding. When the boy forages for food and finds sandwich fixings, her response to his meal is "you make bad sandwiches." (Let's forget he's around 11-years-old and sourced his materials from a dumpster.)
The film compels us to have childlike observations (possibly more childlike than theirs): we process their surroundings, watch them as they gain their bearings and feel on alert when it looks like they might falter. Not knowing what they run from makes our fear they'll return to it much greater.
St. Nick seems specifically resistant to genre. The camerawork is often self-conscious and that doesn't always feel like a good fit for the content but being bothered by that is like the girl dismissing the boy's sandwich accomplishment. In this film, we engage with unfamiliar surroundings in ways that aren't marvelous, which is entirely the point. The kids' world isn't magical, it's perilous—but unlike other kid-stories, wickedness is not lurking, tetanus and authority figures are the real dangers. Their world is a caustic Eden, dangerous, immersive and urgent. These kids have clearly experienced easier surroundings but likely not better lives, and it's evident they're happier with what they've come to than what they've left. When nameless men chase the kids through a field with weapons their peril is as explicit and as vague as it ever was. In that scene, we are as close to understanding their troubles as we can be. It's tragic they're caught being children so briefly and with such little joy, but this tragedy is lost on them, which is a far better thing.
Cast: Tucker Sears and Savannah Sears
Director/Screenwriter: David Lowery
Producer: James M. Johnston
Running time: 86 min.
Release date: April 22 NY