Lost Children: The Girl With No Mouth (2020)-Reviewed

 Can Evrenol (Baskin, The Housewife) steps out of the realm of full on horror to deliver one of the more heartbreaking and surprisingly delightful films of the year. The Turkish filmmaker has become known for his inventively gory and horrific films and on its surface, The Girl With No Mouth seems to fit that mold. Underneath, however, is a charming tale of found family and maybe the best Peter Pan film we've gotten in years.

Taking place sometime in the future, the film follows Perihan (Elif Sevinç) and her father's continued attempts to hide her from local authorities. An unspecified nuclear disaster has left the region in disrepair and many children are born with deformities. In Perihan's case, she was born without a mouth. The government sends out a task force known only as the Hunters to capture and kill these children, again for reasons that aren't made very clear. One night, her uncle who is a leader of a group of hunters and has been granting her protection shows up with news that he can no longer help her or her father. A brief fight leads to her father being killed and Perihan going on the run. She soon meets children just like her (Captain, born without eyes, Yusuf, born without a nose and Badger, born without ears) and begins a journey of survival with this motley crew.

Immediately apparent is Evrenol's complete disinterest in explaining anything, at least not outright. He forgoes heavy backstory and instead throws you right into this post-apocalyptic hell scape with only newspaper clippings or offhanded comments as your guide. It's disorienting at first because one's initial inclination is to want to know how we got here or why the government wants to kill these children. After a certain point though, you become so invested in these characters that the why of it all matters significantly less than their survival.

Making the film work almost entirely on her shoulders alone is Sevinç. As Perihan, she's forced to act with only expressions and sounds and it's kind of incredible what she's able to pull off. She sells the terror of being hunted perfectly but it's the trepidation, then joy of finding a "family" of sorts that's the film's lifeblood. She's a heartbreaking, persevering presence and you invest in her survival instantly. She's essentially the Wendy to the Captain and his Crew's Peter and The Lost Boys and her wide-eyed wonderment is what makes the film so devastating. Ruin, death and horror is all she's known so coming across a beached ship filled with kids just like her is essentially the happiest moment in her short life. It's stunning how expressive and lively she is. Full of curiosity for adventure mixed with an understandable hesitation, she's a joy to watch. It's an incredible physical performance that would be remarkable from any adult let alone a child.

There's a fairy tale-like feel to this entire film and it's the other ingredient that pulls you in without telling you much. It's almost as if Evrenol is forcing you to view the atrocities like you were a child. Perihan and the "Lost Boys" aren't any more knowledgable as to why they're being hunted than you are. All they know is that they're being persecuted because they're different. Forcing you to engage on their level opens up a deeper well of empathy. There's something exponentially horrifying at being fired upon out of nowhere, for no reason. What makes it even scarier, remembering that these are children and as the viewer you're essentially one as well, is that this is just their day to day. Adopting Perihan as one of their own, they're adopting you as well. You bounce around with them, wrestling, laughing and joking all together as a big, happy family. Context doesn't matter when you're fighting just to live and a group opens their arms to you.

They travel the wastelands using their imagination to hide from the realities of the world around them. They scavenge for food, explore burned out buildings and in the process create a magical world around themselves. Evrenol finds something at the center of joyous and tragic that is almost inexplicable but transfixing nonetheless. There have been many takes on the Peter Pan mythos but nothing like this. It exists in a reality that frighteningly feels a little too real but the kids' ability to adapt and quite literally, make believe, eases you just a bit. There's a little bit of a missed opportunity in the lack of addressing living with a disability on a strong, fundamental level but perhaps the brief asides are acknowledgment enough? Evrenol seems to be making the case that these things don't matter and that the outside world's fixation on them may be the problem. Like the history of the world, it's a little vague but leaves enough room for you to draw your own conclusions.

While he's made his name in acclaimed horror, The Girl With No Mouth might be Can Evrenol's best work yet. At times frustratingly vague but never not engaging, it's a stripped down and heartfelt look at surviving the apocalypse with the families we find along the way. It's a small miracle on its own that such a barren story is overcome by endearing performances, excellent use of location and frightening stakes. This is potent stuff from one of genre film's more visionary voices. 

-Brandon Streussnig