Final Girl or Serial Killer? Jodie Foster Combines Roles in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

Jodie Foster has been a powerhouse actor since she entered the movie scene at just seven years old in 1969. The horror community may know her best for one of her most popular roles as Clarice in Silence of the Lambs but she dipped her toe into the world of horror when she was just 14 years old with a leading role as Rynn Jacobs in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.

Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane movie poster.

At the beginning of the film, Rynn Jacobs is celebrating her 13th birthday all alone on Halloween night. She and her father have moved from England to a rented home in a small town where everyone is in everyone else’s business (as is the case in most small towns, believe me). But this is different. Rynn’s father has never been seen by the townsfolk. He is a busy poet, and the little girl is left to her own devices most of the time.

Rynn doesn’t seem to mind being alone and it seems that her father has well prepared her to take care of herself. The house is maintained and Rynn does her own banking, grocery shopping, and cooking. However, she does seem lonely and guarded against any adults that meddle in her affairs.

Rynn Jacobs studies a visitor.

Throughout the film, we follow Rynn through her struggles as a young girl living in a home all alone with little more than her pet hamster, Gordon. Rynn is resourceful though and mature well beyond her age and that’s a good thing because the adults in this town fail her at every turn. Time and again the adults of the town stop by Rynn’s home, including the police, and believe her when she says her father is in his office, sleeping, or away on business. They rarely probe further and when they do, she always is able to turn them away. Even worse, when she becomes friends with the local police officer who has taken an interest in her; he admits that he knows her father isn’t there and that she has been living alone. Big adult fail.

The whole idea of Rynn’s father’s absence is what springboards the horror in this odd film. Because he is gone, the young girl is forced to uphold his secret which leads to a body count. We’re first clued into that when the landlady (Alexis Smith) storms into the house and she and Rynn have a standoff over Rynn’s father’s whereabouts. This happens a couple of times until the landlady comes to get some jelly jars and stomps downstairs despite Rynn’s protests. We hear a scream as she is startled by something in the cellar and drops the door on her head leading to her death. Ok, so Rynn didn’t technically kill this one but that doesn’t make her innocent. I mean, there’s another body in the basement and more to come because people who intervene in Rynn’s life end up dead.

Rynn and her landlady face off.

Rynn would be the final girl of this film if some of the other characters had their way—the iconic Martin Sheen as Frank Hallet for one. Sheen’s career has taken him to some interesting places, but this is one of his more cringe-worthy roles. Sheen plays a man who is interested in young girls and everyone in the town knows it but does nothing about it because his mother has enough money to cover his transgressions. Frank comes around to Rynn’s home far too often for comfort and he makes no secret of his intentions. Rynn does her best to fight him and clever as she is, she is little match for the grown man. Or is she?

Rynn and Frank

I really don’t want to say too much about Rynn’s father or what happens to Frank because I don’t want to spoil anything so let’s talk about another terrifying aspect of the film—the sexual situations. Rynn begins seeing a sweet older boy, Mario Podesta (Scott Jacoby). The two meet when Rynn is trying to get rid of her landlady’s car and Mario passes by on his bike wearing a magician’s top hat and cape—totally normal. I’m not sure that it is ever mentioned exactly how old he is but he’s too old to be in a relationship with a 13-year-old girl. In one scene, Rynn and Mario are going to bed in her room, and she gets undressed before climbing into bed with him. It may not be so unsettling if she weren’t supposed to be just 13 in the movie and only 14 in real life. At this point, it is obvious that they are participating in a very adult relationship. While watching the movie, I thought, “oh, certainly she was a very young-looking 18 years old.” Nope, I did some research and Foster truly was only 14. However, after further research, it was Foster’s older sister who was a body double for her in this particular scene. Phew!

As the movie continues, Rynn and Mario’s relationship gets more and more serious which is disturbing given her age and the fact that she is completely on her own with no parents or guardian to guide her. On the other hand, Mario is a good sounding board for her and an important companion. She even confides in him that her landlady is dead in the basement and that she killed her mother by giving her tea laced with cyanide—oh, and her father taught her how to poison people. Mario responds by helping her bury the bodies in the backyard. Now, that’s a boyfriend!

There are quite a few strange things about this movie, and you’ll need a healthy suspension of disbelief in watching it. However, Foster and Sheen’s solid acting skills keep the movie engaging enough to warrant finishing it. Not to mention, the whole idea of a father leaving a young girl alone in a home intrigues you enough to keep watching to find out more about what is really going on because obviously, there is a story there. And the way that Rynn was taught to do anything she has to do to stay on her own and survive is interesting. I mean, why? What about the real world is so horrible that this young girl would rather live completely isolated?

I’m not saying it’s a great movie, Sheen and Foster have both been in far better films, but it is enjoyable if you’re into diving into some deeper horror cuts. Just expect far more questions than answers.

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Written by Audrie Bretl Martin

Audrie Bretl Martin is a full-time communicator and a lover of all things pop culture. She holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Augustana College and a master's degree in Strategic Communications from the University of Iowa.

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