British actor and ‘Magic Mike’ heartthrob Alex Pettyfer takes on the role of both first-time director and star of upcoming thriller and murder-mystery drama ‘Back Roads’.
The screenplay adapted by Adrian Lyne and Tawni O’Dell from her book of the same name, Back Roads is set in the mid-’90s and gives off the same raunchy texture of a Southern Gothic drama, but without the accents and infiltration of illicit drug abuse.
A hue of diluted colors paint over the Pennsylvania suburb with a sense of unmistakable grimness and desperation. The purposefully claustrophobic close-ups and awkward angles tell the story of a broken family scrambling to address the various mental and sexual impacts that abuse and abandonment leave behind.
The majority of the film is a flashback sandwiched between an interrogation with the lingering question posed by the local sheriff (Robert Patrick). “Why did you kill her?” the sheriff calmly probed Harley (Alex Pettyfer).
As the story rewinds, we see young Harley, a lost soul, attempting to bear the responsibility of solely supporting his three younger sisters after his mother is imprisoned for murdering his father.
The rebellious, sex-hungry, 16-year-old sister Amber (Nicola Peltz) consistently poses an emotionally draining challenge for Harley. Amber repeatedly runs away with her various abusive boyfriends only to find herself back home in order to stomp her feet and make it known that she cannot and will not put up with her elder brother and his inability to properly care for her personal and somewhat lavish desires.
Middle sister Misty (Chiara Aurelia) slithers throughout the film with her own eeriness and unsettling rebelliousness brewing, while eight-year-old Jody (Hala Finley) appears aloof to her circumstances, but magically always knows exactly what to say in order to comfort Harley and/or move the plot along.
In between shifts at the local supermarket, Harley attends regular sessions with the country social services therapist (June Carryl), who acts as a caring, warm mother-like figure for the broken and deeply disturbed young man. Regardless of the therapist’s genuine care for Harley, Harley finds solace in a tumultuous, yet sensual affair with his neighbor Callie (Jennifer Morrison).
Harley continues to slowly dismantle his family’s suppressed demons until his world irreversibly shatters.
Overall, the structural twists and turns of the film kept me intrigued as an audience member and genuinely unsure of what details lurk around the corner. But unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to deter from the remarkably static melodrama. Every character was in a state of utter dismay at every point throughout the film and left no room for growth, variation or depth. Emotions ran high and they stayed there, apart from one tender and beautifully raw interaction between Harley and his social worker in the final moments of the film.
Back Roads is set to release in theaters on Friday, Dec. 7th. Check out a trailer for the film below!