Lola: Girl Got a Gun

By Emily Elizabeth Thomas | Drama
A young girl searches for purpose and belonging in a conservative and abusive West Texas household.

A young, innocent girl lives with her mother, brother and stepfather in the vast emptiness of West Texas, full of wide-open skies and vistas. But life at home isn’t easy. Her loud, often drunken gun-loving stepfather is emotionally and physically abusive, and the young girl lives under a constant, pervasive threat of violence.

Her brother does his best to protect her while her mother tries to not cause trouble. But then the stepfather introduces the young girl to the shooting range… and soon she adopts a gun of her own, putting her own inimitable stamp on it.

Writer-director Emily Elizabeth Thomas’s short drama has a fairytale, jewelbox feel, with its undeniably beautiful, hypnotic visuals. Viewers will be most immediately struck by the film’s combination of gorgeous landscapes, gritty domestic scenes and the young girl’s dainty, frankly pretty pastel-filled personal world.

All of these are suffused with warm, rich light and burnished shadows, and shot with a carefully balanced visual composition that give this world an uncanny poise. The visual approach works with a uniquely calibrated sound design, and together they give a sense of a place cordoned off from the rest of the world, isolated and sequestered from influence and consequence.

But within this world, a domestic nightmare unfolds for the young main character. Like a lightning storm, violence regularly erupts in her home in the form of her volatile stepfather, who terrifies the home with constant threats and attacks. The fact that he possesses guns — and teaches the kids to handle them — seems to amplify his power and threat.

But the storytelling refuses to make the narrative melodramatic or the issue of gun violence dogmatic. The excellent ensemble of performances are alI on the understated side, emphasizing how violence silences and suppresses voices and actions. The writing also takes its time, presenting the domestic violence in an almost observational way, and both the camerawork and editing style possess a drifting, creeping quality that give the feel of a surreal, frightening daydream. The dream-like effect is both visceral and disembodied, adding to the strange, fractured fairytale quality of the film.

But when the young girl takes matters into her own hand, the pace and intensity of the film undeniably quickens with a sense of anxiety and dread. She takes a gun for her own, and her girlish, feminine decoration and naming of it has a uneasy, ominous hypnotic symbolism. She now has power and agency in a world where she is normally passive and acted upon — but at what cost? The heartstopping end of the beguiling, powerfully evocative “Lola: Girl Got a Gun” might offer an answer to her story, but the film itself offers no comforting conclusions to the questions about power and violence it poses.

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