[Fantasia 2022 Review] ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS
ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS l Fantasia Film Festival
Looking back on childhood, many people conjure up images of beautiful birthdays and fanciful days filled with wild exploration. Some of these memories include peaceful images, while other moments might fall more into rapscallion-levels of danger. But unfortunately for the hundreds of thousands of children currently in foster care, reflecting on their youthful years will more likely create feelings of angst and invoke thoughts of numerous traumatic events. Left with no parental love or guidance and often facing abuse, these children experience a much different upbringing that the average person cannot fathom. One family (possibly unintentionally) set out to capture the indescribable emotions and fears connected to the foster system with their story of three fearless little girls who find themselves lost and swept away. Playing at the Fantasia Film Festival, the Schmidt family (directors Brian and Ann-Marie Schmidt) cast their three daughters in the nature horror epic ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS.

With its high cliffs and washing surfs, this island sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Loads of seals and pelicans call the island home and recreate the yearly mating dance to continue populating the island with all kinds of animals. Only one creature remains alone and that is a one-armed lightkeeper. The interesting opening narrative seems more reminiscent of a kid-friendly Tim Burton movie or possibly even Wes Anderson. The gorgeous aerial shots of the island almost make you expect David Attenborough to start narrating the daily activities of the island’s inhabitants.

Then the film switches significantly in tone and context as we see three playful sisters who range in age from twelve to four years old. They enjoy games and giggling, but only the oldest seems aware of their dire circumstances. The young and adorable Avila, Autumn, and Scarlett (all playing themselves) have no parents and like most siblings in the foster system, face a high possibility of being separated because no one wants to adopt all three. But the lack of security does not concern the two youngest girls because they only want to live for today. The opening sequence plays out like an episode of some of my favorite Nickelodeon shows from the 90s as we see the girls create a heroic escape out a bathroom window. Then armed with their bathing suits and avocado and jam sandwiches, the trio heads to the beach.

The directors stage innocent interactions such as encountering a crab or a game of tic-tac-toe and makes these moments far more harrowing. In fact, as long as the sisters stay together when the girls face really terrifying dangers such as being swept out to sea, they handle it with the level of confidence as if playing one of their games. Their youth makes the world seem big and perilous, but their innocence (at least in the case of the younger two) keeps them from fully understanding the gravitas of the situation. They at first ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over the giant seals occupying the hazardous shores, but soon the animals show their dangerous side and become horrible fishy monsters.

The movie uses a lot of action shots as the sisters get tossed around by the ocean and struggle to hang on to each other. And while the unbelievable adventures seem only fit for a movie, the emotions and feelings accurately depict the very real horrors which occur while in foster care. Fear and never knowing where you will end up are two very real experiences when in the system and the charging unforgiving actions of the ocean present a very good metaphor for what too many children face every day. The girls get tossed around by the waves just like how foster kids get thrown from one home to the next.

One very emotional scene shows Avila desperately trying to stay with Scarlett, but the ocean waves only push them farther apart from each other. Unfortunately, in the foster system keeping siblings together often proves impossible. At twelve years old, Avila wants to take care of her younger sisters, and she believes being a pre-teen makes her mature enough to do so. However, what she perceives as an asset is what actually separates her from the others. Foster homes usually only accept children of certain ages, so the older Avila becomes, the less likely she will be able to stay with her four-year-old baby sister. Teens need a very different type of care, so very few homes would be prepared to handle the significant age difference between Avila, Autumn, and Scarlett.

ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS did not get as much attention as other films at the festival, but the Schmidt family brings quite a few memorable moments to the big screen. The three little girls did all of their own stunts, so being able to recognize a CGI seal or background actually comes as a sense of relief. So many filmmakers spend millions of dollars on locations, casts, action scenes, and effects, but this movie shows you can still achieve a movie with a big production appearance without a big budget.

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