Life lived below the subways, deep in the underbelly of New York City, has rarely been explored onscreen since the 2000 black-and-white documentary “Dark Days” took audiences below the surface. In Logan George and Celine Held’s festival-favorite debut “Topside,” the filmmakers root a mother-daughter story in these very depths. The film won the Best Director prize at SXSW 2020 and the Mario Serandrei Award for Best Technical Achievement at the Venice Film Festival later that year. Now, the film is opening from Vertical Entertainment in select theaters and on digital and VOD on Friday, March 25. Exclusive to IndieWire, watch the trailer below.
In this riveting film, a five-year-old girl and her mother live among a community that has made long-abandoned subway tunnels their homes. When the pair is forced to head above ground into a cold winter night, Little (Zhaila Farmer) and her mother Nikki (played by co-director Held) are plunged into a challenging world that makes their uncertain underground life seem idyllic by comparison.
Nothing in “Topside” can outdo the urgency of its initial passage, but the pace is relentless nonetheless. While Held delivers an unnerving and sophisticated performance as a troubled woman compelled by maternal instincts to protect her daughter against an unforgiving world, Farmer emerges as a true revelation, delivering the most sensitive and sophisticated child performance since Quevanzané Wallis blazed across the screen in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Unlike that movie, however, we’re left to imagine the magical realism that informs Little’s worldview, as her mother feeds her a mythology rather than attempting to explain the sheer mania around them. Initially told she can’t go topside until she grows wings, Little experiences the city as a jumbled mass of noise and machinery uninterested in explaining itself to her, and the movie excels at clarifying the dread of the unknown that enshrouds her at every turn.
Look for the film on March 25 and watch the exclusive trailer for “Topside” below.