Topside Movie Review & Film Summary

Topside Movie Review

The first minute of “Topside” will shake you to your very core. It starts off with a passage from Jennifer Toth’s book The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, which is the book about homeless people that served as the basis for the movie. “Initially, JC informed me that his community did not have any children. He continued after a little pause by saying, “We have adults as young as five.”

As we take in that idea, a vision of a young girl appears before us: she is shrouded in shadow, and the only source of illumination is coming from above, shining down on her face like an angel from a Renaissance painting. She and her mother, Nikki, who is portrayed by Celine Held, who is also a co-writer and co-director of the film, live in an abandoned subway tunnel.


Within the confines of this underground maze, a number of the other inhabitants have constructed makeshift abodes for themselves, complete with a few pieces of furniture, a lamp, and even a door. The girl sits in front of a tablet and watches cartoons on it, but she has never gone “topside,” which is another name for the planet. She is only known by an adjective; she does not even have a real name. Little is what everyone calls her (an affectingly natural performance by Zhaila Farmer).

There are reminiscences of the movie “Room” in the bond that Nikki has with Little. A mother is able to shield her child from the awareness that she is subjected to cruelty and hardship by creating a world for her child that is kind and soothing. This place has a home inside of a tunnel that is always dark, always damp, always very cold, and always filled with the noises of rumbling subway trains, pouring leaks, mysterious clanks, and creepy, invasive flashlights that are held by security agents.

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Nikki reassures Little that she is safe by murmuring to her in a low voice that she will continue to check to see if the wings that Little is certain will grow from her shoulder blades have begun to sprout. Little is certain that the wings will allow her to fly. But in contrast to the courageous and resolute mother in “Room,” Nikki is broken and has the mental capacity of a kid when it comes to comprehending the events that have transpired in her life. She is not even capable of thinking ahead, let alone formulating a strategy for the future.

The movie “Topside” was filmed in an intimate, documentary style, and a significant portion of it is told from Little’s point of view. Little spends a lot of the movie staring up, and she hears the adult voices around her as a low rumble that is both physically and mentally out of her reach. Little does not know how awful her conditions are, but we do.

We are able to overhear some of the talks that are taking place around Nikki as the other people who live in the tunnel are attempting to persuade her to make preparations for her exit. Little discovers a collection of documents that appear to contain warnings that the tunnel is soon to be demolished; however, she is unable to decipher the warnings. She sees them as nothing more than a blank canvas for her to color on.

Nikki snatches Little and brings her topside for the very first time, despite the fact that the authorities have arrived and are being polite by attempting to provide assistance. The point of view shifts as Nikki continues her frantic search for a secure location. She is so terrified of becoming entangled in the system that it could take Little away from her that she refuses any offer of assistance that could bring Child Protective Services’ notice to the situation. Little is her world, and she doesn’t want to lose her. She shows signs of being more and more desperate. A brief interaction with a predatory acquaintance, played by Jared Abrahamson, who is appropriately creepy in the role, is only briefly described. One of the highlights of the show is the musician Fatlip, who plays the role of a de facto leader of the underworld society. Fatlip is shown to genuinely care about Little and makes numerous attempts to get Nikki to notice what is going on.

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It is clear that the filmmakers had noble goals in mind when making the picture. Held is genuinely worried about children who are at risk, as was demonstrated in her earlier short film titled “Caroline,” and she wants us to see how vulnerable these children are. However, this concern is not sufficient to make up for the growing impression that the movie is less about the terrible failure of the social safety net or the manner in which marginalized and fragile individuals develop communities and more about Held’s performance as Nikki.

The resolution, which is intended to present the character as both triumphings and giving up at the same time, is too abrupt to have the impact that she and co-writer and co-director Logan George hope it will have on the audience. Her struggle to not completely melt down takes up a large portion of the film’s final act. While the location delves into the bowels of the subject matter, the movie itself stays on the surface.

topside film Currently showing in select theaters and accessible via video-on-demand.