A creeping naturalism inhabits virtually every frame of “Dayveon,” an atmospheric first feature by Amman Abbasi chronicling a teenage boy’s troubling rite of passage during a sweltering rural Arkansas summer.
Thirteen-year-old Dayveon (newcomer Devin Blackmon) lives with his nurturing sister, Kim (Chasity Moore), and her boyfriend Bryan (Dontrell Bright), but still struggles with the recent shooting death of his older brother, Trevor. Dayveon appears destined to follow in those ill-fated footsteps after being initiated into the local Bloods gang.
Under the wing of questionable role model Mook (Lachion Buckingham), Dayveon quickly heads down a slippery slope, taking part in armed robberies and getting drunk in strip joints.
Although the path taken by Dayveon and the plotting are well-traveled, 28-year-old filmmaker Abbasi does some intriguing things with tone and texture that are reminiscent of “George Washington,” the 2000 debut film by Arkansas native David Gordon Green, who serves as one of “Dayveon’s” executive producers.
What starts off with the raw, unfabricated feel of a docudrama becomes increasingly infused with a heightened realism often bordering on the surreal, incorporating contrasting sun-drenched daylight and disorienting, nocturnal darkness, not to mention a rustic environment that is well represented by swarms of restless bees.
That naturalness also extends to the unaffected performances of its cast of non-professionals, and while their untrained speaking voices can at times make the local dialect tricky to decipher, there’s a convincing connection between them, most notably where Dayveon and the sympathetic Bryan are concerned.
There may be a lot of obstacles in front of Dayveon, especially all those pesky bees, but Abbasi nevertheless leaves you with the lingering sense that the kid’s going to be alright.
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica