There’s a sure acquainted profile for lots of latest not-quite-movie stars that Riley Keough appears to suit. She comes from a high-profile household (she’s Elvis Presley’s granddaughter!); dabbled in modeling at an early age (first gig: Dolce & Gabbana); and has appeared in some hit motion pictures (Magic Mike; Mad Max: Fury Road) with out ever starring in a single or changing into a family title. But with so many conventional movie genres exiled to indie motion pictures and/or streaming, Keough hasn’t wanted blockbuster back-up to develop a transparent persona. Her new film Zola, a Sundance sensation in 2020 lastly making its option to streaming this Friday July 23, confirms it: Riley Keough is her technology’s most interesting femme fatale.

The femme fatale archetype—the seductive, mysterious, irresistible lady who lures different characters (often males) into hazard—pre-dates cinema itself. But any such character was particularly prevalent in Forties movie noir; Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Rita Hayworth in Gilda; Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Keough doesn’t work solely in noir or neo-noir, however when she does, it appears to coax these components additional out of the film in query.

Hold the Dark (at the moment streaming on Netflix), for instance, is a wilderness thriller that looks like a very bleak noir every time Keough is on display screen. She’s at her most fatale as Medora, a lady who writes to Russell (Jeffrey Wright), a wolf professional, luring him to Alaska so he can monitor the wolves that she claims took her younger son. She engages within the sorts of manipulations that populate numerous noir footage, solely her final targets really feel extra existential and elusive. Actual wolves don’t spend that a lot time on display screen in Hold the Dark. Instead, it has Medora taking the femme-fatale position into extra feral (although nonetheless calculating) territory, touching the “chaos and homicide” Werner Herzog noticed in Grizzly Man.


The Los Angeles thriller Under the Silver Lake is a real neo-noir, and provides Keough has a job that might be thankless: She’s Sarah, the attractive, mysterious neighbor who fascinates and allures the aimless, handsome creep Sam (Andrew Garfield). Sam and Sarah spend a single night collectively—half-idyllic (getting stoned and watching an previous film), half-dirtbaggy (snacking on saltines and orange juice; additionally, Sam is a dirtbag), and abruptly curtailed—earlier than she disappears, 20 minutes the film. The subsequent two hours are about Sam touring down varied trash-culture conspiracy rabbit holes in search of her.

This implies that Keough isn’t in plenty of Under the Silver Lake—and that she has to create a memorable picture that may convincingly hang-out the remainder of the film. First and repeatedly seen in an enormous hat, sun shades, and bikini, she suits the invoice visually, and Sarah has loads of femme fatale traits: supernaturally alluring, so instantly within the protagonist as to arouse suspicion, and able to main him right into a world of violence and thriller. But the film flips that position into ambivalence. The traditional femme fatale attracts a person into her world for her personal functions, whereas right here Sam pursues Sarah, making the implicit need to be drawn into that world painfully specific, even previous the purpose of her seeming to actually exist. Late within the movie, when Sam (spoiler alert?) lastly locates her, Keough teases out an opaque sense of melancholy over the place she’s wound up.

Earthquake Bird (additionally streaming on Netflix) additionally makes use of Keough as disappearing bait. The film toys with noir formulation by specializing in Lucy (Alicia Vikander) a lady who reluctantly befriends Lily (Keough), a fellow expat residing in Tokyo. There’s a love triangle, of kinds, however essentially the most attention-grabbing rigidity within the film is between Lucy and Lily, particularly when it’s unclear whether or not Lily is manipulative, seductive, or simply flaky. There’s one thing unnervingly nomadic about Lily that’s additionally part of Keough’s deal in American Honey, the place she performs a conniving den-mother of kinds to a ragtag crew of teenage runaways promoting journal subscriptions all throughout America.

This brings us to Zola, which equally has Keough seducing a lady on not-quite-sexual phrases. The film is predicated on a real story as conveyed via an enormous Twitter thread, following the harrowing and darkly humorous misadventures of Zola (Taylour Paige), a waitress and someday unique dancer who goes on a highway journey with a brand new sorta-friend Stefani (Keough). They’re supposedly heading to Florida for a profitable night time of dancing, however Stefani withholds sufficient data to place Zola in reliable hazard. Run-ins with pimps, weapons, and kidnapping observe.

Based on its wild origin story and fidgety fashion, Zola looks as if it’s going to be manic and punchy—a TikTok come to life. Director Janicza Bravo as an alternative goes hazier and extra zonked-out, mixing previous media with new: capturing totally on grainy 16mm movie whereas consistently punctuating scenes with the pings of push notifications. Similarly, the charisma that Keough summons for Stefani isn’t pure femme-fatale seduction. She lures her new acquaintance in with sex-positive feminine bonding, providing enjoyable, cash, and even a splash of finances glamour—as she speaks nearly solely within the language of cultural appropriation, a white lady affecting a “Black” voice. Is this a part of her cultural upbringing, an affectation, or each? (Regardless, Paige’s underplayed reactions to Keough’s extra outlandish deployment of Black-cent are priceless.) When the film takes a mid-action break for Stefani to relate her aspect of the story, quoted from a Reddit thread relatively than Twitter, she impacts a holier-than-thou mean-white-girl purity—a markedly completely different (and pretty unsuccessful) type of shameless manipulation.

Zola typically feels afraid to attempt to add as much as a lot; the characters are deliberately static and the film ends abruptly, as if transferring too far afield from the unique tweets could be sacrilege dedicated towards their found-art qualities. But it features some which means via Keough’s different work. Her femme fatales play into regional iconography: In Hold the Dark, she submerges herself—actually, at one level—into the Alaskan wilderness, whereas her character in American Honey asserts herself with a Confederate-flag bikini. In Silver Lake, she’s a Los Angeles fantasy. Zola turns her into Florida incarnate; that Stefani doesn’t technically dwell there nearly makes her extra Floridian, a vacationer with short-sighted ambition. The regionalisms, actual or imagined, change into a part of her characters’ mystique—an evidence (or an excuse) that by no means fairly suits. Forget it, it’s Silver Lake. Or Tampa. Or Alaska.

ZOLA RILEY KEOUGHPhoto: Everett Collection

These characters aren’t merely utilizing their picture to get what they need; in a few of these narratives, the everyday male patsy finally doesn’t determine into them in any respect. Rather, Keough updates and obscures the femme fatale position into a sophisticated unknowability, neither tragic nor villainous. She creates femme fatales who prey, by chance or not, on how little we learn about one another.

Jesse Hassenger is a author residing in Brooklyn. He’s an everyday contributor to The A.V. Club, Polygon, and The Week, amongst others. He podcasts at www.sportsalcohol.com and tweets dumb jokes at @rockmarooned.

Where to stream Zola


Leave a Reply

Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124