There is no direct, external violence in Sadie, a new film from Seattle writer-director Megan Griffiths, which has its Seattle premier on Sunday. Not a drop of blood is spilled on screen, not a punch is thrown. Yet it’s a story about violence on the periphery, a thing constantly at the edge of our lives. Sadie, played with introverted nuance by Sophia Mitri Schloss, lives in a trailer park in Everett with her mother, Rae (Melanie Lynskey). Sadie's father has been away at war for years. She plays violent video games and loves brutal movies. She verbally snipes the men who try to date her mom, Bradley (Tony Hale) and Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.).
Most of the film’s drama is interpersonal and approached with indie naturalism. Cyrus and Rae begin to date, which upsets Sadie. Rae has hardly spoken with her husband in years, but he writes Sadie letters every other week. Cyrus has a bad back and an accompanying a pain-killer problem. Sadie’s best friend, Francis, is getting threats from a school bully.
The menace only seeps in as Sadie tries to deal with these problems. When reasoning with her mother doesn’t work, she invites Cyrus over for dinner and spikes his big glass of milk with milk of magnesia. When that doesn't work, she goes a step further. She writes a brutally violent school paper about soldiers killing their enemies, which makes its way to Bradley who works at her school. To help Francis, she threatens the bully back—with severe escalation.
Griffiths started writing the film in 2009—considering the effects of war and a culture of violence on children. “It felt very topical at the time and then it just somehow maintained that feeling,” Griffiths said. “I wish it was less topical than when I started writing.”
For most of the film’s run-time that topicality is kept artfully in the background, a part of the thematic atmosphere. The climax goes perhaps a step too far in making a point, but it’s a necessary point, especially in a time when there is an actual national conversation about arming teachers: A culture that uses violence as a solution will produce children who try to use violence to protect those they love.
May 27 & June 6, SIFF Cinema Egyptian, $14–$35
In 2014 two twelve-year-old girls led their Classmate into Wisconsin woods and stabbed her 19 times with a kitchen knife, saying she was a sacrifice to the internet mythic figure Slender Man. Now director and playwright Erica Schmidt draws on that story in her Mac Beth. As the (rather silly) play in the title might suggest, Schmidt recasts Shakespeare’s tragedy with seven young women acting out the play after school, and becoming progressively more immersed in its narrative. The result is for the most part successful.
Some flourishes don’t land. Characters irritatingly repeat that pause in the title when first saying Macbeth’s name. A couple interludes—where the cast dances to and sings Beyoncé’s “Bow Down/I Been On” and later blasting the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”—feel needless. And Schmidt compresses the play’s many parts down to seven actors, meaning some are switching rolls throughout. Sometimes this underscores the girls-at-play quality in the production. But frequently it's just confusing: we’re already trying to keep up with 400-year-old language here, and the cast blows through the five-act original in a zippy 100 minutes.
That young cast, though, does a laudable job of navigating the production's potentially murky tonal shifts: Shakespeare’s raw drama and alternately broad and biting comedy now imbued with teenage energy and a layer of metafiction. Likewise, the biggest flourish—the gender and age swap—creates compelling thematic friction with its source material, that sort you're welcome to ponder, but that also hits you on the nerve endings. Macbeth is already a play about violence and its aftermath, about the sway talk can hold over a mind and the terrifying absence one faces when that talk evaporates. But it’s also about gender. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth persistently conflate masculinity with violence and ambition. “Unsex me here,” cries Lady Macbeth, so that she might urge on her husband's ambitions—then later: “Are you a man?”
“Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that which might appal the devil,” Macbeth replies. Spoken by a young woman, after the murder of a classmate/king, the line reverberates. As to what these reverberations say, about young women and a violent culture’s effects on them and their occasional role in it—I have no clear answer. Though in the current climate, which has been current for far too long, surely such reverberations signify something.
Thru June 17, Seattle Repertory Theater, $36–$43