Never Underestimate A Teenage Girl

The cathartic justice of not so sweet revenge in THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE and DER FAN.

By Emily Sears · @emily_dawn · August 24, 2021, 2:00 PM EDT
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Teenagers Rynn and Simone have a lot in common. For one, they spend a lot of time dodging unsolicited attention from lecherous men while the rest of the world looks the other way. They're both loners, rebels. Refusing to conform to any man-made rules. Both wise beyond their years, their innocence, while deceiving, is still very much intact. Which is why it's shocking to discover they're both ruthless killers. But what drives them to kill curtails the surprise.

It's no secret that women find it cathartic watching abusive and predatory men (boogeymen, if you will) get what's coming to them on screen, especially at the hands of their potential victims. Sure, there's an inclination to feel guilty for taking pleasure in gruesome acts of violence against your fellow man, but I think being born into a world so inherently careless with the hearts, minds, bodies, and overall well-being of little girls validates indulging these fantasies. What separates Rynn and Simone from the world as we know it is that they get justice against their predators. They are judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to holding these men accountable, because no one else is paying attention. Although the circumstances driving them to murder are wildly different, the message is resounding: never underestimate a teenage girl.

In The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, thirteen-year-old Rynn (Jodie Foster) just wants to be left alone to live the bohemian lifestyle learned from her recently deceased father. Set up by him in a cozy rental in a small seaside town, she's constantly hounded by landlady and real estate tycoon, Mrs. Hallet (Alexis Smith) and her twisted son, Frank (Martin Sheen), whose depraved mind is set on getting the young woman alone. The whole town, including the cops, knows of Frank's proclivity for young girls, but his family connections protect him from any legal repercussions. At first, it seems highly intelligent Rynn is more than capable of fending off his sleazy advances, explaining away her poet father's absence with lies that he's working in his study or meeting with his publisher. As Frank's visits become more frequent and intimidating, the fact that she's all alone in the house looms over every encounter.

The encounter is entirely different and even consensual for Désirée Nosbusch's Simone in Der Fan (aka Trance, The Fan). Older than Rynn at seventeen, angst has certainly taken root, leaving her disillusioned with the world and everyone in it, except for the pop singer known as "R" (played by Bodo Staiger, whose German New Wave band Rheingold provided the film's amazing soundtrack). Writer/Director Eckhart Schmidt's portrayal of Simone's wanton fixation on the front man plastered all over her bedroom walls captures the teen fangirl spirit in a way so raw and relatable I swear I blushed when I first saw it. Her entire identity is centered on her love for the icon, and his empty pop promises completely beguile her. Building over the course of three very distinct acts to a crescendo better seen than read about, but we'll get to that later, what starts as a harmless unattainable crush evolves into a voracious and violent obsession.

Meanwhile, it's Rynn who evolves throughout her story. Her secrets emerge in conversations with her newfound love, Mario (Scott Jacoby), confessing she's been the cause of two accidental deaths – one being her own mother, whom she unknowingly served tea laced with cyanide at the behest of her father; and the other, the nosy Mrs. Hallet, who was bashed in the head with the cellar door after ignoring Rynn's request not to go down there. While these accidents are a departure from screenwriter Laird Koenig's novel in which the character is more methodical and adept at disposing of her victims, it adds gravity to the final scene depicting her transformation into a murderess.

Cornered by Frank in her home with no more lies to fend him off, Rynn plays house with her captor long enough to – intentionally this time – serve him a deadly cup of tea. His arrogance and power fade as the poison does its work, and director Nicolas Gessner moves the camera in close on the cold detachment in Rynn's eyes, calmly watching him die as the credits roll. The implication hangs in the air that the world made her a killer. All those blind eyes turning away, warning her of danger but doing nothing. Someone had to stop him.

Simone's final act is less expected but, perhaps, more visceral since her story is so relatable. Past waiting for a response to her fan letters, she hitches a ride to the TV station where R is scheduled to appear. What follows is the answer to her teenage prayer, as he picks her from the crowd to spend a few hours in his spotlight. The fact that his crew looks on in annoyance hints that many girls have come before her. But when he fails to live up to her fantasy, callously using and tossing her aside, Simone is shell-shocked. Ending their encounter in a savage act of passion, it's not enough for her to bash his head in. So, she cuts him to pieces with an electric carving knife and devours him whole. Brutal, indeed, but he won't be breaking any more hearts.

In Lane, Rynn poses the question, "How old do you have to be before people start treating you like a person?" If the world's taught us anything, it's that age has little to do with it when you're a girl. It seems common knowledge by now that once a girl reaches womanhood, she's fended off dozens of creeps like Frank Hallet and met her fair share of guys like R. Boys will be boys, right? And that's certainly the atmosphere in these films—a casual disregard toward the mistreatment of young women. So, yeah, I guess that's why violent and gruesome endings like this are so cathartic. Because there should be consequences for harassing and taking advantage of little girls. And it's unfortunate if the victims have to be the ones playing judge, jury, and executioner. But someone's gotta' do it.

Click below to revisit The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane: