In ‘Sadie,’ teen goes to dark places to try and keep her family intact

Seattle-based director Megan Griffiths is no stranger to South by Southwest. Her film “Eden” picked up an Audience Award at the festival in 2012, and she has triumphantly returned this year with “Sadie,” a disturbing new drama about a troubled teenager.

“Sadie.”

13-year-old Sadie (Sophia Mitri Schloss) lives in a trailer park with her mother, Rae (Melanie Lynskey, “Togetherness”). Her father has been away serving in the military for the past several years. He sends Sadie letters often but has virtually abandoned his wife, cutting off all contact with her. As a result, Rae is tired of being lonely, and her daughter is just old enough to recognize any efforts she might make to cure that loneliness.

The only adult friend that Rae has to confide in is her neighbor Carla (“Orange Is The New Black” star Danielle Brooks). Bradley (Tony Hale, “Veep”) has been circling around Rae but is unable to seal the deal. It takes a mysterious new resident of the trailer park named Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr., “The Newsroom”) to really catch Rae’s interest.

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Sadie protects her neighbor and best friend, Carla’s son Francis (Keith L. Williams), from being bullied at school, and while they are fairly inseparable, they’re also both at the age where budding sexuality can start to make things confusing between close friends.

Sadie’s hormones are heightening all her emotions, and we really feel the pain and sense of betrayal she feels from the notion that her mother is tearing apart the family. She can only see her father through the distorted eyes of daddy’s little girl. She can’t begin to fathom the hurt and sadness that Rae has experienced after essentially being forced to be a single mother. Griffiths, who also wrote the screenplay, nails the dynamics of her young characters, and both of the young leads give boldly natural performances.

As the film progresses, we feel the intensity of Sadie’s character growing stronger. She becomes determined to get Cyrus out of her way and clear a path for her dad to come home to be a big happy family once more.

It’s best to go into the movie without knowing much more about what happens next, but it’s safe to say that Sadie has quite a dark side.

The film’s score perfectly accompanies the increased tension of the story’s progression. As the credits rolled, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the music was composed by Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready.

“Sadie” plays again at 4:30 p.m. March 14 at the Alamo South Lamar. Grade: B