Actress and filmmaker Nadine Crocker’s feature-length debut Proceed was a hard-hitting, intensely private story primarily based on her personal experiences that she wrote, directed, produced, and performed the lead position. Proving that there are extra strings but to her bow, Desperation Highway proves her to be a dab hand at adapting pre-existing supply materials for the display screen.
Writer Michael Farris Smith wrote the screenplay for the difference of his slow-burning southern-fried thriller, and whereas it’s darkish from starting to finish within the broadest sense, Crocker and a solid firing on all cylinders be certain that there’s all the time a sliver of sunshine shining by means of even because the individuals caught up in a small city maelstrom of spiraling circumstances come perilously near circling the drain.
Opening with a harrowing scene that lays its playing cards on the desk that Crocker has no intention of creating Desperation Highway a straightforward or remotely snug watch, Willa Fitzgerald’s Maben is arrested and assaulted by a police officer, plunging audiences into the belief that that is going to be a no-holds-barred story that doesn’t draw back from the unforgiving and outright despicable eventualities the erstwhile protagonist has been positioned into, though a minor type of salvation is at the least discovered by means of an inciting incident that units the remainder of the narrative in movement.
Now on the run with younger daughter Annalee (Pyper Braun), Maben quickly finds herself crossing paths with Garrett Hedlund’s Russell Gaines, freshly launched from jail and eying an opportunity at piecing collectively the crumbling remnants of no matter life he had earlier than it was taken away. In fact, forming a surrogate household with a fugitive mom/daughter duo wasn’t what he had in thoughts, though the sudden household unit is quickly expanded once they search refuge with Russell’s father Mitchell, bringing all of the grizzled gravitas you’d count on from Mel Gibson in a supporting position.
With regulation enforcement, native hoodlums, and an overarching destiny that intertwines all the key figures collectively, it’s straightforward to model Desperation Highway as against the law thriller, particularly when the poster options Hedlund and Gibson brandishing firearms. That will be doing it an enormous disservice, although, with advanced and sophisticated dynamics between just about each particular person with a talking half making a throughline that underpins each motion – and subsequent response – as having a larger that means.
That’s by no means more true than an enormous reveal halfway by means of that comes like a bolt out of the blue to those that haven’t learn the e-book, one which Crocker well avoids foreshadowing and signposting till it turns into integral to the plot, which then recontextualizes every little thing that got here earlier than within the area of a single scene. It might have simply come off as a cynical rug-pull or storytelling sleight-of-hand dropped in for the sake of making an attempt to generate shocked reactions, but it surely each feels completely natural to every little thing that’s come earlier than whereas portray what’s to comply with within the third act in a model new gentle.
Half Southern Gothic and half neo-Western with dashes of noir, bursts of violence, and a relentless undertone of grief, anguish, and remorse, Desperation Highway is all the time spinning at the least a handful to its plates. To its credit score, although, as usually as one or two of them could start to wobble, none of them come crashing down and shatter.
The tonal steadiness isn’t a straightforward one to tug off, and filmmakers vastly extra skilled than Crocker have tried and failed, so reward is as a result of key creatives for taking one thing that sounds acquainted and maybe even formulaic on paper, however repainting it as an attractive, emotionally-driven style movie that each is and isn’t what you assume it’ll change into.
Nadine Crocker’s slow-burning ‘Desperation Highway’ could take care of the depths of darkness and despair, however glorious performances and a robust grasp of tone propel it in direction of the sunshine.