SYNOPSIS- Underneath the streets of New
York City, a five-year-old girl and her mother live among a community that has claimed long-abandoned subway tunnels as home. When the pair is forced to flee above ground into a cold winter night, mother and daughter are plunged into a challenging world of chaos and tragedy that makes their uncertain underground life seem idyllic in comparison. TOPSIDE deftly weaves escalating suspense with sharp bursts of humanity in a nocturnal urban tangle.
TOPSIDE is a dark and dispiriting portal into the literal underbelly of New York City. The film follows a suburban community hidden amongst the subway tunnels of the city, and the struggles a mother and daughter face when they are suddenly evicted from this home. They are forced to venture up onto the city streets, but even there, there’s no real light to be found. Powerful but stomach-turning, this stuff is bleak with a capital B.
Logan George and Celine Held’s vision is unflinching and brutal. In addition to directing, Held also acts in the film as Nikki. Zhaila Farmer (in an amazing, subdued performance) co-stars as her daughter, Little; the first half of the film is told largely from Little’s perspective. We know little about Nikki and the other adults in the tunnel, and we aren’t meant to. Through Little’s eyes, life in the tunnels is magical. The first shot of the film lingers on particles of dust dancing in a sunbeam – the kind of simple beauty we all forget to appreciate as we age into job searches, mortgages, and all the other pleasures of adult life.
By contrast, Little’s first experience in the sunlight is traumatic and saturated with new noises and fears. The narrative moves behind Nikki, and here the film began to lose me. Where Little’s view is full of naïve wonder, Nikki’s is laid low by the crushing reality of her circumstances. However wonderful life in the tunnels may seem to Little, there’s no romancing Nikki’s reality. But it also quickly becomes clear that those dark, dirty tunnels below Manhattan are in fact far safer than what lies ahead.
I couldn’t look away during the film’s final coda. TOPSIDE asks ambitious questions about society and parenthood. At times, I found it to be brutal and uncaring. I was repulsed by several of Nikki’s choices. But I am grateful to have watched it, and for the questions I’ve asked myself since.
In Select Theaters and On Demand