Leven Rambin has a career that any aspiring actor might envy, in that she has consistently worked for the past twelve years in film and television.
But nearly three years ago, at age 25, she stepped away from that security in franchises like “The Hunger Games” and “Percy Jackson” in pursuit of formal drama training.
“I think at a certain point in my career, I felt unfulfilled. I know my craving is for a different kind of art from here on out, and I grew past the point of being satisfied with booking everything that I could,” she told TheWrap during a recent phone chat.
She walks that talk in the drama “Lost Child,” in limited release this weekend from Breaking Glass Pictures. Rambin plays Fern, a young army vet battling PTSD who returns to her childhood home in the Ozarks looking to repair broken relationships.
When she stumbles on a homeless boy living in the woods near her property, local ghost stories and the real-life consequences of a community ravaged by drugs and poverty begin to play on her sanity. Rambin shows superior control over a narrative that could easily veer off into genre tropes for the wrong actor. She credits her mid-career return to school.
“I became more equipped to take myself seriously,” she said.
Co-written and directed by female filmmaker Ramaa Mosley, the film plays an unsettling game with Fern’s perception versus her reality. Rambin forces the viewer to question whether a supernatural force has invaded her home, or if her own personal demons are getting the better of her (an exciting theme in female-centered genre films this year).
The actress said she and Mosley were both “so desperate for something very true and real. We did not want to be told what to do, we were these ravenous children.”
Mosley used her savings to make “Lost Child,” Rambin said, so “I said to her, ‘I’m going to give as much as you have, and more.’”
[Warning: Mild spoilers for “Lost Child” ahead]
First-time actor Landon Edwards plays Cecil, Fern’s woodland discovery who will not disclose his identity or how he came to be stranded in the country. After taking him in, Fern is immediately stricken with a mystery virus. Her youthful face is slick with sweat and her hair is gradually turning white.
An elderly town doctor warns Fern, with an eerie confidence, that Cecil fits the description of a “tatterdemalion.” It’s a child demon that dwells in the woods and cannot cross into the land of the living without a willing escort. The demon then steals its host’s life force, and returns to the woods juiced up and ready for its next mark.
Rambin went all out for authenticity. She lodged pieces of cotton ball in her nasal cavity every day to create the character’s symptoms. She refused stunt doubles for a visceral fight scene with her estranged brother (Taylor John Smith). She got drunk and vomited for an ugly self-realization scene, spinning in circles before every take to make it as natural as possible.
The continuing student also got a chance to play teacher, with Edwards on his acting debut.
“I worked with him in a way that created this imaginary world for both of us, to be scared. to be holding that space — feeling unsafe, feeling unwell. There was something really special about it,” she said.
Rambin will next appear in the Netflix feature biopic “The Dirt,” about the rise of rock band Motley Crue, and the WGN America series “Gone” alongside Chris Noth.