(Lance Hammer, 2008)
A sombre, low-key drama following the effects of one man's suicide upon three members of his family, Hammer's debut builds its emotional power as it progresses to an effecting conclusion. This is down partly to his patient approach with his characters, who are revealed slowly and entirely through their words and deeds, and partly through the hypnotic power of his simple, controlled aesthetic. There is no exposition, and every single detail serves the narrative or Hammer's insistent formal rigour. His camera, generally handheld, tracks his characters as they plod across the wintry fields of the Mississippi Delta or sits on the backseat of a car, gaze fixed through the windscreen. Hammer has a fine eye and captures numerous stunning shots of drab skies over scrubland, occasionally fixing a character in some private moment of misery or isolation in a cramped, somewhat grim room.
These characters are damaged and struggling to survive in a world of little money and small consolations. The dead man's twin brother is destroyed by grief, and his haunted stare and stooped, defeated walk are echoed by his estranged nephew, who steals and takes drugs to deal with his own boredom while his exhausted mother tries to keep a job, run their home, and raise him safely.
The absence of music increases our sensitivity to a superb sound mix - distant highways clash with the music of dull domesticity - as we watch these people make painful decisions in a banal, utterly believable manner. No hyperbole or melodrama here, only the stuff of real life, people dealing with mistakes and flaws and regret, unable to properly articulate how they feel or what they want. Hammer wrote, edited and directed, and his superb little film says it all for them.