There’s the makings of an absorbing film in Ramaa Mosley’s “Lost Child”—whose original title, “Tatterdemalion,” is still given in the credits—but flaccid pacing and indifferent performances drain the life from the movie as surely as the titular creature is supposed to drain it from its victims. The result is a little film that, in the end, couldn’t.
The protagonist is Fern Sreaves (Leven Rambin), who returns to her hometown in the Ozarks after a fifteen year absence. Recently discharged from the army, she’s suffering from PTSD and has a particular aversion to guns. What she mostly wants is to find her brother Billy (Taylor John Smith), but when she does he wants nothing to do with her, blaming her for abandoning him.
Meanwhile Fern has taken up residence in the old family house, a modest place on the edge of the forest. It’s among the trees that she notices a boy (Landon Edwards), poorly dressed, who runs away when she calls out to him. Eventually she finds him: he calls himself Cecil, but otherwise says very little, and she takes him in.
The next day she calls the authorities, and a social worker shows up. It turns out to be Mike Rivers (Jim Parrack), whom she’d met working the bar at a local watering hole and spent the night with. He asks her to keep the boy with her while he searches for his family.
But things quickly turn dark. Fern learns from both her friend Florine (Toni Johnson) and the local doctor (Mark Ingalise) of the local legend of the tatterdemalion, a spirit that appears to mortals in the form of a child and drains the life from them, leaving them ill, their hair turning white. She begins to suspect that Cecil is such a creature, since she is feeling unwell.
Nonetheless Fern will protect Cecil from her malevolent neighbor Fig Karl (Kip Collins), and even after she sends him away to live with other homeless kids in a grubby foster home, she continues to search for his parents. Ultimately the mystery of his background—and of Fern’s illness—is solved, and the picture ends on a relatively hopeful note.
“Lost Child” is a picture that tries to have things both ways, raising supernatural overtones while trying to remain grounded in reality, and it doesn’t succeed in maintaining the delicate balance that combination requires. It has some very real virtues: Rambin is excellent, and Parrack solid; Edwards, moreover, gives a nicely natural performance. The southern Missouri locations provide effective ambience (the opening credits sequences are evocative), and the cinematography by Darin Moran is good; the details in Cameron and Paul Gray’s production design also add local color to the mix.
But the supporting cast barely gets by, and Mosley’s rambling style, accentuated by the very deliberate editing style (by Phillip Bartel, Debbie Berman and Robert McFalls), makes for a sleepy feeling, even with a short running-time.
What we’re left with is a movie of considerable potential that unfortunately isn’t realized in the execution.