Mixed performances set tone in Southern melodrama ‘Battlecreek‘

With its sticky-hot Dixie setting, haunted small-town folks and dead-end vibe, “Battlecreek” invokes some symbolic tale out of the 1950s or ’60s given the once-over by Tennessee Williams.

That said, there’s something credibly affecting about the film’s main character, Henry (“It” boy Bill Skarsgård), a young man with a rare skin disease that forces him to avoid sunlight.

When a jalopy driven by the mysterious Alison (Claire van der Boom) sputters into the garage where Henry works nights with the ebullient Arthur (Delroy Lindo, excellent), a friendship — and more — develops between Alison and fellow lost soul Henry.

Watching the blossoming of Henry, whose neck and chest were left badly scarred by a dubious childhood sunburn, keeps us invested, even as Alison’s own course turns predictably melodramatic.

Anthea Anka’s earnest script manages to paint Henry as a kindly, poetic fellow, but with enough quiet self-possession to avoid sinking him in pathos. It’s a tricky balancing act, beautifully matched by Skarsgård’s depiction.

Conversely, Henry’s clingy mother, Tallulah, is a hoary mix of boozy-floozy clichés and contradictions made worse by Paula Malcomson’s unsubtle turn.

Director Alison Eastwood (“Rails & Ties”), despite an evident affinity for the material, takes an overly stagy approach to the scenes, when a more lyrical, atmospheric style was in order.


Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Playing: In limited release

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