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I START COUNTING (1970).

Years before UK director David Greene ventured to the US and helmed groundbreaking mini-series such as ROOTS and RICH MAN, POOR MAN (as well as the unintentionally hilarious anti-drug potboiler THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR), he came up with this slight but brooding psychological thriller, which never made it to US theatres. It's primarily a showcase for 16-year-old Jenny Agutter, who soon afterward, dazzled critics in Nicolas Roeg's WALKABOUT, before adulthood landed her in US fiascoes like LOGAN'S RUN... Agutter stars as Wynne, a Berkshire schoolgirl with a somewhat unhealthy preoccupation with her adult brother George (Bryan Marshall). Then again, Wynne is adopted, so she doesn't see anything wrong with a little low-key lust or sneaking innocent peeks while George is washing up in the loo. But one day, while secretly following brother about town, he stuffs a strange parcel into a remote trash can, and when she retrieves the package, it contains a sweater covered in dried blood. Instantly, Wynne wonders if George has some connection to a series of recent, brutal murders, and this misguided girl decides to uncover the truth all by herself. As Wynne finds more clues (or red herrings), and hopes that her secret heartthrob isn't this local sexual predator, she continually returns to her real family's old, abandoned home where she used to live -- located in the rural area where the murderer maneuvers -- to revel in old memories and uncover more disturbing facts. Wynne even goes so far as to hide in the back of George's van for the afternoon, gets wasted on some handy liquor, and eventually has her lovesick delusions shattered by a much-needed dose of reality... There's plenty of mood and menace along the way, even if there isn't much meat on the actual mystery, since the all-too-obvious solution deflates some of the suspense. Still, it's the characters that keep this low-key tale interesting, and nowadays its underage sexual elements would undoubtedly be deemed 'inappropriate' by prudish viewers (such as when Alex Thomson's camera lingers on Wynne slipping into her schoolgirl outfit, or in the bath, fantasizing about her brother). Agutter is excellent as this hormonal Nancy Drew, and exudes an intelligence that her character often lacks. As her sexually-experienced best friend Corinne, Clare Sutcliffe brings welcome humor to the story (as well as a micro-skirted wardrobe), and Simon Ward makes an early screen appearance as a bus conductor.

© 2001 by Steven Puchalski.