Hit-or-miss horrormeister Saul (Faces of Fear, 2008, etc.) drops a vulnerable teenager into a new town with no friends but a schizophrenic, a witch and a big old house.
Drunkenly mourning his wife’s recent death, Ed Crane kills a man in a bar fight and then runs down his 14-year-old daughter Sarah as she bikes along the highway in search of him. Ed lands in jail; Sarah, who now has metal plates in her leg and hip, is placed with a foster family in nearby Warwick, Vt. Though her well-meaning social worker can’t see it, the placement is a nightmare. Zach Garvey is a lout, his sister Tiffany a selfish brat who supports her shopping by stealing and selling Sarah’s medication, their mother Angie a smirking religious hypocrite, their father Mitch a greedy bully who just happens to work at the prison where Ed is doing time for manslaughter. Like a modern-day fairy-tale heroine, Sarah is alone and helpless until she meets Nick Dunnigan, who hears voices and sees visions of his teenage tormenters bursting into flames, and Bettina Philips, the herbalist/astrologer/art teacher who recognizes Sarah’s rare and uncanny gifts. Without ever having seen it, Sarah draws a perfect likeness of Bettina’s home, a former asylum for the criminally insane, as it looked 100 years ago; then she begins a series of drawings and paintings that precisely match the voices and images in Nick’s head. Anyone who’s survived adolescence will take a certain pleasure in watching Saul turn all the normal fears, competitions and terrors of teenagers into supernaturally tinged Grand Guignol.
The storytelling is strenuously unnuanced but undeniably powerful as it brings to vivid life an adolescent’s zero-sum view of moral realities.