‘In Bishop, you either talk or you’re talked about,’ Belle Simon (newcomer Belle Shickle) tells us. She should know. She’s the eldest of the three beautiful, blonde Simon girls who lost their mother (Judith Hoag) four months earlier and whose dad Rick (Rick Kain) has begun drinking and fallen under the spell of televangelist Ron Peltz’s (Bobby J. Brown, HBO's 'The Wire') End of Days forecast. The Simons are both ostracized in their community and peered at as if in a “Fishbowl.”
Laura's Review: B
If the beginning of director siblings Alexa (who also designed the costumes) and Stephen Kinigopoulos’s (who also edited and cowrote with Piero S. Iberti) feature debut reminds you too strongly of “The Virgin Suicides,” fear not as their own, fresh ideas quickly come to the forefront.
After Belle’s narrated background, spoken over a slo-mo montage, the filmmakers introduce each of the three sisters individually. The youngest, Jessa (newcomer Caroline Coleman), is now mute with trauma, much to the frustration of a teacher trying to get her to vocalize. Middle child Rachel (Emily Peachey) is shocked when a friend advises she is no longer allowed to hang out with her anymore, on her birthday no less. Belle, who has openly begun to rebel against authority, is caught cheating by Sister Mary (Maria Broom, HBO's 'The Wire') who demands she raise her uniform’s skirt to reveal test answers written on her thigh.
If their Catholic school appears hostile, things are worse at Church, a place even their dad has begun to question as he doesn’t like the way his daughters are gaped at, something we see first hand as they parade in in their virginal white floral dresses. Belle smirks at the priest who suggests that his ‘simple’ parishioners’ would be more comfortable if the Simons stopped attending, giving credence to their unspoken doubts. But as dad begins to break down, finding symbols in birds dropping from the sky, he will defiantly return with his clan and Pelz’s literature, his girls forced to ‘save’ those that they can before everything ends on September 29th.
Like “The Virgin Suicides,” the film has a dreamy quality, cinematographer Levi Magyar favoring a palette cued from the girls’ blonde tresses. The filmmakers present their trio of sisters, each distinct, as a supportive force even as they acquiesce to the increasingly disturbing behavior of the father who used to make their lunches but now just sits and stares, their cupboards bare.
Belle, who smokes at the bus stop and hangs with bad boy Joey (Alexander Swenson), stages one last act of rebellion when dad forbids them from attending a costume dance, explicitly condemning her skin tight devil costume. The devil, princess and nun sneak out of the house, only to return bedraggled and defeated, dad intimidating confronting Joey. So on Rapture Day, the three lie down with dad, but the white light which floods their home gives them a different, revelatory kind of reckoning.
The filmmaking siblings became interested in the dynamics of faith because of their own upbringing with a Jewish mother and Greek Orthodox father and their film is full of religious symbolism from claps of thunder to the three descending panes of glass on the Simons’ front door symbolizing both the Holy Trinity and the three daughters. What is most compelling about their debut, though, is their command of tone, their film imbued not only with the heightened drama of the teenaged girl’s point of view of the aforementioned “Virgin Suicides,” but the doomed romanticism of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and the art house horror of “Take Shelter.” They’ve accomplished this with no score, but an effective, ethereal soundtrack, one flashback featuring the angelic voice of the mute Jessa singing at a school performance. Performances are strong across the board, newcomer Shickle in a breakout role, Kain remaining sympathetic, his Rick’s love for his daughters never in question.
“Fishbowl” is compelling indie filmmaking by two siblings have created something provocative by using their own heritage and literally filming in their own backyard. One wonders what will happen when they venture further afield.