Serial killers and serial kidnappers hold a certain fascination for many of us. We desperately want to understand what drives them to commit their heinous crimes, not once, but over and over again with compulsion. I’m sure that criminal psychologists have volumes of answers for these questions, but in movies the answer is often that they are just deeply and incomprehensibly evil. That does seem to be the case with The Girl Who Got Away, and while the story of a woman kidnapping a murdering young girls over the course of a decade would be an intriguing tale on its own, this film, as the name implies, is a look at the continued horror of being the lone survivor of such evil.
Christina Bowden (Lexi Johnson) is the lone survivor of imprisoned murderer Elizabeth Caulfield (Kaye Tuckerman). As an adult, Christina chooses to stay in the same small town in upstate New York where the crimes happened. Hoping to leave a positive mark on the town, she is a teacher and is working to adopt a troubled young girl who is currently living with the same problematic foster parents who took her in after her rescue. Her plans to live a quiet life seem to be going well until Caulfield escapes from prison and goes on the run in very “Michael Myers” fashion. With Caulfield on the loose, more murders start happening– and they are all people tied to Christina. Sheriff Jamie Nwosu (Chukwudi Iwuji), who is relatively new to town, is tasked with figuring out Elizabeth’s motives as well as keeping Christina safe.
Writer/ Director Michael Morrissey has built layers of trauma in the story as we get flashbacks to Christina’s time in Elizabeth’s house as well as nuggets of information from additional characters about her life after escaping her captor. We get glimpses of survivor’s guilt, the loneliness of becoming an adult with no support system, and the failures of the American foster care system where children often become little more than a paycheck. Unfortunately, the ideas are so ambitiously plentiful that nothing seems to get fully fleshed out in the story. There are multiple subplots happening among countless side characters, some of whom seem to be there simply to add to the body count. It’s a lot for the viewer to keep track of only to ultimately realize there was never really a reason to do so. Reigning in some of those more incidental side stories may have created more time to fully explore the person Christina has become, and at nearly 2 hours long, there is definitely room to trim some ideas.
That said, Lexi Johnson (The Nice Guys) and Chukwudi Iwuji (Daniel Isn’t Real) turn in very strong performances in the two lead roles. They do a great job of creating characters that feel real, and their chemistry together seems to grow as the characters begin to understand each other in the film. Johnson personifies Christina’s anguish even as she makes you wonder if she can be trusted. I found myself wanting Iwuji in more scenes as he balanced the sheriff’s kindness and charm with the professional detachment that would be needed to deal with the string of murders befalling his town.
While The Girl Who Got Away leans heavily on the thriller side of genre, it does not shy away from blood and brutality of pure horror. The murders that take place after Caulfield’s escape from prison are gruesome and ruthless, daring the viewer to turn away. Although this is not a supernatural story, the flashbacks to the kidnapped little girls feature images so haunting you might be sleeping with the lights on after watching.
Quiver Distribution will release The Girl Who Got Away on August 20th, 2021