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Review: Josh Stewart's ‘Back Fork’ is a beautiful, if muted, tale of the drug crisis in West Virginia

Review: Josh Stewart's ‘Back Fork’ is a beautiful, if muted, tale of the drug crisis in West Virginia
David Selby, left, Dorothy Lyman and Josh Stewart in a scene from "Back Fork." (Uncork'd Entertainment)

A grieving father descends into the depths of a hellish opiate addiction hand-in-hand with his sister in Josh Stewart’s second feature film, “Back Fork.”

West Virginia native Stewart writes, directs and stars as Waylon, mourning the death of his daughter, his sorrow eating away at his marriage to Nida (A.J. Cook). The pills he scores from his elderly father help keep his demons at bay — until the pills beckon the demons to trample his life. His sister Rayleen (Agnes Bruckner) is right along for the ride into the darkest depths of humanity and addiction.

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This quiet, personal drama meanders through the experiences of Waylon and Rayleen, and the narrative is so laser-focused on their experiences that the rest of the collateral family damage falls to the wayside. The trio of performances at the center of the film are solid, if muted, and “Back Fork” lacks the kind of viscera and grit that one might expect from a film like this.

In fact, this is one of the more aesthetically pleasing films about shooting heroin and crumbling families. Filmed on location in West Virginia, the movie is beautifully shot, capturing the setting’s natural beauty. An insistent stringed score nags and needles at the characters like a constant itch.

The darkest moments are depicted in rapid-fire montage, and as audience members, we never get a sense of the characters’ true anguish and pain. But this family drug drama isn’t typical, instead crafting an experience that is hushed, poetic and intimate.

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‘Back Fork’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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