The Girl on the Mountain (2022)
A grief stricken, reclusive backwoodsman must protect a young girl fleeing her abusive father.
(this movie has themes of intense mental health issues such as depression, grief, abuse, and suicide, could be triggering)
I honestly can’t remember how I first heard about this film. I know I stumbled across the trailer somewhere online, watched it, and thought, “Huh. This reminds me a LOT of the characters in my big fantasy epic I’ve been working on for sixteen years!” So I had it on my watchlist forever, and finally watched it the other night on Amazon and was very taken with it. After watching it, I found several more similarities with my book, which I just loved ❤️. (Reminds me I need to get back to work on it!)
In a nutshell, The Girl on the Mountain revolves around a father who retreats to the woods after losing his daughter tragically. While living in the wilderness, he meets a girl on the run from her abusive father and ends up as her protector. Both characters have trauma and grief they are working through. In my book, a wanted man named Westrel has been hiding in the woods for twenty years when he rescues a mysterious girl who has been left for dead and nurses her back to health. Both of them have suffered trauma and they have to learn to trust each other through it. Oh, and my character must also protect the girl from those pursuing her like Jack does for Aria in the movie. So the similarities in theme between the movie and my book was one of the things that really drew me to it.
The movie had a few issues, but nothing major that kept me from having a good time watching it. God spoke to me very clearly a couple of times in it, and truthfully, that’s what’s going to sell me on a movie more than anything else. And if a movie gives me any kind of the feels, then it gets my love in return and I will enjoy it thoroughly even if it lacks a little polish. And I found so much here to enjoy!
Spoilers For The Girl on the Mountain Below!
The movie starts off with a man, Jack Ward, alone in the woods. Jack was an orchestral conductor, seemingly so obsessed with his job that his wife and daughter were forever coming in second. This is revealed through flashbacks throughout the movie, and it is also revealed that his daughter, Melody, was struck down by a hit and run driver after Jack was late picking her up, and his wife, in her grief, blamed Jack and then committed suicide. We see Jack also contemplate suicide several times in the movie.
Jack meets a young mute girl when she tries to steal food from his supplies. At first Jack tries to send her away, but the girl follows him, and he finally softens and allows her to stay with him so he can look after her. The girl can communicate through sign language, which Jack knows a little of, and he learns from the girl that she witnessed her abusive father murder her mother, and went on the run into the woods to escape him. Her father, Big Al, and three of his friends are looking for her as she was a witness to the murder and could implicate them. Jack vows to protect the girl, whom he calls Aria.
Big Al and his friends do indeed come for Aria, and while Jack is able to hold them at bay for a time with homemade booby traps, eventually they capture Aria and leave Jack for dead. Jack is revived after having a vision of stopping his own daughter’s death, and pursues Aria and her captors, taking them down one by one and rescuing Aria.
So What Did God Show Me?
-I love how casually Jack talks with God. It’s so real, so raw. It’s so refreshing. “You really are a vindictive bastard, you know that? Yeah, you. Wherever you are. This doesn’t change anything. I hope you know that. Why do I even waste my time with you? You’re a joke.” It might sound funny to some people, but God is not bothered by this. I think so often in life, we forget how real God is, and how near. He wants us to be honest with Him, and He is not offended by our honesty. He would prefer it over any kind of phoniness, he knows us too well anyway. God understands our pain, understands our anger, understands our fear. Nothing should ever hold us back from being honest about what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling with God. And isn’t it refreshing when we are? Later Jack begs God to help him save Aria, and I loved seeing him reach out to the only Person he had left, the only one he thought would be able to help him. God is there. He is real, and you are not alone.
-When Aria is plopped right in the middle of Jack’s life, he’s all, “What are you up to?” with God. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had an unexpected circumstance happen in my life and been all, “What the HECK, God?” But that is where living in expectancy versus expectation comes in. At that point, Jack didn’t know what an impact Aria would have on his life, or how God intended to use her to bring such healing to his life, just as he did with her. Sometimes God works in our pain by giving us something else to care about. Not instead of what we cared about in the past, but rather, in addition to. God is a God of second chances, even if they’re not what we’re expecting them to look like, and He can restore the years the locusts have eaten.
-When Jack first meets this mysterious girl who’s stealing his food, he asks her name, and she says she doesn’t have one. Later he gives her the name Aria. I was so touched by what a precious example of God’s love the gift of a name is. Our names are critical because they are tied to our identities. For instance, before she met Jack, Aria’s identity was worthless. Big Al calls her “less than nothing” and “maggot”. He declares to Jack that all she can bring him is pain and death. What must it have been like to grow up that way, where that was all you heard? (I would have loved to know what her mother, who loved her so much she was willing to die to protect her, called her…she must’ve had some kind of pet name for her?) When Jack gave Aria her new name, it replaced all the foul identities the enemy placed on her. Jack even goes into what Aria means – untouchable, someone who holds their own. Aria also means “lioness” in Greek. Jack even calls her his princess. Names give us life.
God does this for us. He gives us a new name to replace the lies others have placed on us. He calls us a son or a daughter. He calls us His own. The world cannot take away our identity, because the world did not give it to us. And no matter what negativity the world tries to reinforce in us, He will come against those lies and continue to confirm our true names. The scene at the end of the movie exemplifies this, when Big Al is mocking Jack for sacrificing himself for “a less than nothing maggot”, and reinforces that “she doesn’t even have a name.” But Jack declares that her name is Aria, not just once, but TWICE! So powerful!! And we see the power a name has, for when Jack declares Aria’s name and identity, Aria finally gains the freedom to speak, to be brave, to try and fight for Jack. Wow, I loved that scene so hard.
-There’s a heavy theme of regret running through this movie. Oh, regret is the ultimate itch that can never be scratched! Jack is dealing with such massive guilt and regret over the deaths of his wife and daughter. How many times are we haunted by our mistakes, or perceived mistakes? “If only I’d done this differently.” “If only I’d been there.” One of my personal recent regrets was never telling my mother about my writing before she died. Stupid reasons, I guess…I thought she wouldn’t “get it”, or that she’d tell me that it was a nice hobby as long as I kept a “real job”. Whatever the reasons I had at the time, I wish I had told her and not kept it a secret, because I felt like I robbed her and myself of being able to share together in an important part of my life. I don’t know if she would have understood or agreed with everything that I write on or about, but I do know that she would have been super proud of me for using my creative gifts and talents. (And she definitely would have commented something on all my blog posts!)
-Both Jack and Aria each think the death of a loved one was their fault, Jack his daughter Melody, and Aria her mother, Trish. I think the enemy tries to get us to believe that we’re not worthy of the good things we have, so when we lose them, we think we deserve it, and that it’s somehow our fault. And again, regret rears its head. The enemy wants us to believe that if we had only done this, or if we had gotten there a little bit earlier, or made a different decision, the outcome would have been different. Or maybe it wouldn’t have been. I’ve had tons of super crappy things happen to me, and I’ve also had bunches of amazing blessings poured out on me. “Bad things happen to good people, but it doesn’t mean it’s their fault.” Why “bad” things happen to “good” people is a question mankind has asked from the foundations of the earth, and I don’t believe there is a real answer, at least, I’ve not been able to come up with one.
But one thing I’ve always been reminded of when bad things happen is from an episode from season one of The Waltons. John Sr and his son, “John-Boy” are having an argument about why bad things happen, and John-Boy is demanding answers from his father, who had always spoken wisdom to him before.
John-Boy: Oh, Daddy, all my life I’ve been preached to about this God of love and mercy watching over us. Just show me one thing that’s loving and merciful about this.
John, Sr: I don’t know that I can, son.
John-Boy: Of course, you can’t. What kind of a God would do this?
John Sr: You feel he hasn’t kept up his part of the bargain, huh?
John-Boy: He hasn’t.
John Sr: Well, maybe that’s because it’s your bargain, not his. I don’t know much about this personal God that your mama and your grandma believe in, but I do know there’s a power working in our lives protecting us, blessing us all these years, son. And we’ve accepted those blessings. Now, it’s time for us to accept the other.
John-Boy: That’s you saying that? You’re saying that to me? You? That’s like lying down. That’s like quitting. Like looking up at the sky and saying: “Okay, Lord, it’s alright with me if it’s your will.” I don’t accept that, and I don’t see how you can accept that.
John Sr: It’s not my way to lie down and let life kick me in the face, and it’s not your mama’s way either. I mean, things you can change you gotta try to change, but some things you can’t change in life. Standing around and shaking your fist at the sky won’t change it. It may make you feel better for a minute or two but it doesn’t change anything!
John-Boy: Daddy, you listen to me. As a boy I worshiped you, I worshiped the ground you walked on. I tried with all my heart to believe everything you told me, and I tried to be just like you. But now we’ve come to a fork in the road… and I just don’t believe one word you’re saying to me.
John Sr: John-Boy, you’re going to have to find your own answers, son. But this much I do know… good times and bad times come to all of us. And what counts…what counts, son, is the way you take them. What you let those times do to you. That’s what counts, son.
Though it may feel that way sometimes, I don’t believe God’s a vindictive bastard, not in any way. And He has the ability to use our grief and terrible situations for some sort of good. Like everything else in life, we have a choice when bad things happen to us. We can allow the bad thing to shrivel us up, to make us bitter, to consume us with pain and grief and hate. All of those things might “make us feel better” in the moment, but in the long run, do us no good. Or, we can try (key word here: TRY) to let God adjust our perspective and see what He will do in the bad situation. For example, in Jack and Aria’s situation: If Aria and her mother had both run, maybe Big Al would have caught them and killed them both. Or if they had both escaped, Aria would never have met Jack, and he might have actually committed suicide. If Jack’s daughter Melody and his wife had not died, Jack would not have been on the mountain to save Aria. They saved each other by moving forward through their tragedies, their bad things.
-Jack contemplates suicide several times during the movie, and I pondered several times as to what slender lifeline he was holding on to that kept him from it. Was it fear? Fear of the unknown, fear of what happens after death? Was it hope? Maybe the tiniest bit of hope that today would be better, and then the next day and the next, and you keep making it through each day until finally you realize you’re still alive, and you don’t want to die. But I guess I like to think it was God. That God has his hand on Jack, and that He had more for him to do. I was picturing God with His hand over Jack’s while it was on the trigger, keeping him from firing it. “No son. Not today.”
Jack couldn’t know at the time that God had put things in motion to put him in the position to help Aria, and as a result, to restore, in a fashion, what was taken so brutally from him…his daughter, his life, his joy. At the end of the movie Jack himself expresses he’d forgotten how beautiful life is! Thank God, Jack never followed through. I’ve posted this before in other blogs…keep going. Life is not static. Things change. You will not always be in pain, in suffering, in fear. We can’t see the big picture the way God does, and we don’t know what else He has in store for our lives, but rest assured, you are important to Him, your life is important to Him, and there is more that He wants to share with us. The world needs you, and would be less without you.
I also love how the bullet Jack carries in his boot, which was supposed to be the instrument of his suicide, turns out to be the weapon he uses to save Aria. LOVE it! This is a physical example of how God can use what is intended for our destruction to save us (and others).
-My absolute favorite scene(s) in the movie is when Jack shifts into protective father mode. Aria has been living without a name. She’s been told that she was worthless. She watched her mother die in front of her, and now she’s on the run from her father and men who want her dead. I cannot fathom what that must feel like for a twelve year old, and I hope no one reading this blog has ever had to deal with something like that. But now Aria has found a protector in Jack. He tells Aria that he will keep her safe, and defend her no matter what. He promises that he will never let her enemy take her from him. He tells her that she is worth fighting for.
There have been so many times in my life I’ve listened to the enemy’s lies to me, that I had nothing to offer anyone, that I was completely undesirable, that no one cared about me, that I didn’t matter, that I wasn’t worth it, and that no one would fight for me. And the enemy can be really good at lying.
The scene where Jack tells Aria that he’ll never let them take her and that she was worth fighting for was when I broke down and started crying. It just felt like God was speaking straight through all those old lies, speaking that truth straight to my heart, and I felt His love and care for me so strongly. And then later, when Jack almost dies trying to save her from her captors, I was reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and how He fights for us. I’m sure the enemy was saying the same thing to Jesus as he hung on the cross. “Why do you fight for them? Geez you’re stupid. They’re nothing, just worthless trash.” But Jesus knows the truth, and He wants to make sure we do too. We are worth it. We are worth fighting for. Worth dying for. Like Jack, Jesus has made us a promise that He will always fight for us, and He won’t let anyone take us away from Him, because He thinks we are so important and we matter so much that he was willing to die for us. YOU, reading this blog right now, you matter! Especially when you feel like you don’t.
All that being said, I was a leetle overwhelmed during the scene where Jack kills all of the men who have taken Aria. I get why the director went in that direction, I guess I just felt it was a little too brutal for me personally, not in the sense of visual violence, but in tone. But, I’m not a guy, nor an enraged grieving protective dad trying to save his little girl, so I rolled with it.
I had the wonderful opportunity to email with the director of the movie, Matt Sconce, and he was kind enough to share with me about his vision and passion for the story and the movie:
“I wanted to tell the story of a broken and grieving man who decides to live again when he encounters a lost little girl in the mountains who is in danger and needs his help. My movie is about being able to move through the process of grief and self hatred into a new future filled with hope and fresh beginnings. Of course, there is action as well with a big ending.
I have always been a fan of stories of people moving through the process of grief and finding hope and new life at the end of the journey. I feel like these movies inspire people to feel these things in the real world. With this concept sparking in my mind, Chris Mejia (executive producer) and I sat down and outlined the entire thing. I wrote the script in three weeks. Shortly after, we launched into pre-production.
I wanted to be able to tell the story of hope, grief, forgiveness of self, and an epic adventure, framed in the backwoods of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is where I live. I hoped to create a film that resonated with audiences and found successful distribution. I’m excited to say that both of those goals were accomplished. We currently have an 83% positive audience review score on Rotten Tomatoes, and 4 out of five stars on Amazon with over 1,700 reviews. Each day, the number of ratings rise and we climb slightly higher in our star ratings. People are enjoying the movie and telling their friends.
From the beginning, this was a passion project. I wrote it with the lead actor, Daniel O’Reilly, in mind. I cast my daughter, Kenzie Sconce, as the co-lead. Writing the script many times moved me to tears. I desperately wanted to do it justice and get it out into the world in a big enough way that people could see it and enjoy it. It was a hard and exhausting journey, but it was worth it. After being shopped by our producer’s rep for a few months, we had three large indie distribution companies interested. We went with the best deal, Saban Films (One of the top 10 Indie distribution companies in the world), and after finally delivering everything they needed, the movie released on March 8, 2022 on digital and on demand. Saban released the trailer and it has been viewed over 1.5 million times! Going into our 8th month since releasing, and the movie has already repaid all the investors and we are already in profit. That is usually unheard of for a small independent film with no star power names attached.
Our dreams have been realized, the movie is succeeding. It is mattering to people and, as many people’s comments in the review section show, it is bringing them hope, adventure, and peace.
(On making a movie) I would advise people to start with the story. Make the story or find a story that you would bleed for, because you will finish it through blood sweat and tears and, if it’s not something that your heart beats for, it is much more difficult. Also, when the story matters to you that much, it will translate to your viewers.
I would also advise people to prepare as much as possible. Planning a project is the most important part in my opinion. Get the best equipment that you can find and a crew that shares your passion for the project.
I always say the path to a successful movie is the following: dream, plan, start, persevere, finish, learn, grow, repeat.”
Way to go Matt, and congratulations to you and the cast and crew of The Girl on the Mountain. I look forward to checking out more of your productions as they happen!
The actors playing Jack (Daniel O’Reilly) and Aria (Makenzie Sconce) are incredible. Both of them are so expressive! When Jack is chasing after the men who have abducted Aria, there’s one shot where he leaps on a guy with his knife drawn and WOW. The expression on his face, his body language is pure righteous daddy anger. He is NOT letting them take his little girl. I love the passion Daniel portrayed…he was very raw and real. And DANG, that Makenzie girl playing Aria is amazing. She does so much with her eyes, and her facial expressions! Wonder, sadness, fear, longing, peace, trust, joy…I was captivated, it was crazy awesome. I think they are both incredibly talented actors and their performances were the best parts of the movie.
I also love the decision to make Aria mute and incorporate American Sign Language into the film. I love ASL, I’ve always been fascinated by it. Usually I have trouble with languages, but ASL came very easy to me, maybe because oftentimes the signs look like what they mean, which made it easier for me to remember. I took a semester course in it once, and was told that I had a natural grace and a very expressive face, which apparently is half of what ASL is all about. I would love to have pursued it further, but it didn’t work out at that point. Someday! One thing I found out is that the ASL sign for “brave” also can mean “healing”. SO COOL. Every time they signed “We are brave” they were also signing “We are healing” because they were. Wow, so great.
All in all, this movie wasn’t perfect, but I thought for being a low budget independent film shot during the pandemic it does pretty well. It’s not for everyone, but then, what movie is? (Not even Lord of the Rings…wait, did I just say that out loud??) It had a lot to say, and it said it powerfully, which I felt overcame most other issues. Well done!
What kind of bad things have you overcome? When have you had to be brave when you didn’t feel like it? How has God worked in your own bad thing to help someone else? Who has God put in your life to help or that helped you? Drop it in the comments!
Links I Like
Watch the movie’s trailer: The Girl on the Mountain
Rent or Purchase this movie on Amazon: The Girl on the Mountain
Watch on Vudu: The Girl on the Mountain
Watch on ITunes: The Girl on the Mountain
Watch on AppleTV: The Girl on the Mountain
Movie Listing on the IMDB: The Girl on the Mountain
Instagram site: The Girl on the Mountain
Director Matt Sconce’s website (he’s a gamer who streams on Twitch, too!): www.mattsconce.com
Link to purchase Matt’s book Stormbreaker on Amazon: Stormbreaker
The Waltons 1×24: “An Easter Story”
(I am not a licensed therapist or any kind of mental health practitioner, and I can’t give you any advice on your mental health issues you may have except to seek help from a professional. If you are suffering from grief and/or trauma, or are in an abusive relationship or situation, I encourage you to get help, especially if you feel like hurting yourself. The National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number is 988.)