Holler: Jessica Barden Shines In Nicole Riegel’s Feature Debut

Holler. Photo credit: Dustin Lane.

Holler, starring Jessica Barden, marks an impressive feature debut for writer-director Nicole Riegel in the Southern Ohio-set production.

It’s no lie that manufacturing towns are among the first towns to take a hit when the economy takes a downturn.  Jackson, Ohio is certainly no exception.  For Ruth Avery (Jessica Barden), she’s willing to do whatever it takes to go to college and have a better future.  Working with her brother Blaze (Gus Halper), Ruth soon learns that this is easier said than done.  Again, the jobs are dried up.  The only option for the duo is to work for Hark (Austin Amelio) and his scrap metal crew in winter.  Ruth works the yard by day while stealing metal at night.  Ruth soon learns that there’s a price that comes with wanting a better future.  Is she willing to lose her family in the process?

Ruth’s relationship with her family is at the heart of writer-director Nicole Riegel’s film.  Holler is very personal for the filmmaker as she draws on her own experiences.  Cinematically speaking, this is a beautiful film.  This is the beauty of independent film.  More often than not, studios tend to ignore these kind of stories and that’s a shame.  What I see here is a filmmaker wanting to tell her story no matter how dark it gets.  And yes, it certainly does get dark.

Nicole Riegel is in full control of the production behind the camera.  The director manages to get a strong performance out of her cast–especially Jessica Barden.  I’ll have more on Barden’s performance in a few.  The film may be dark but cinematographer Dustin Lane lights this beauty with perfection.  In an era where everything is digital, I can admire that Holler was shot on Kodak 16mm film.  Could Riegel follow in Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino’s footsteps?  I hope so!  What’s even more impressive about shooting on film is that production took place during a polar vortex.  Independent film means never having enough time or resources.  However, you couldn’t feel this while watching the film.  And to deal with a vortex on a feature debut?!?  More power to the film team for that!

Jessica Barden, an English actress is probably the last person one would expect to portray a working-class teenager from Southern Ohio.  And yet, Barden comes from a working class background herself!  The actress works with Riegel to craft a memorable performance.  Her performance also feels authentic for Southern Ohio.  The film surrounds the actress with the likes of Gus Halper, Austin Amelio, Grace Kaiser, Pamela Adlon, and Becky Ann Baker.  However, this is Barden’s film through and through.  What is more impressive is that Barden is acting in this film during a polar vortex!

In a perfect world, Holler would have had its red carpet premiere this past March during SXSW.  Alas, this was not meant to be.  Instead, audiences are only discovering the film for the first time this fall.  This doesn’t take away from the film’s beauty–it just means a six-month delay to formally launch the film.  My hope is that a distributor acquires the debut feature.

Holler is a beautifully crafted feature debut for Nicole Riegel complete with strong and memorable performances, especially from lead star Jessica Barden.

CAST:  Jessica Barden, Gus Halper, Austin Amelio, Grace Kaiser, with Pamela Adlon and Becky Ann Baker

Holler screens during the 2020 Deauville Film Festival in the Competition program, TIFF Industry Selects, and the Nashville Film Festival. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.