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The Independent Critic

Josh Davidson, Nicholas Wilder, Molly Heckard, Claire Bromwell, Jon Mendte, Pat Joyce, Jen Kurtz, Amy Shea
Mike Crawford
90 Mins.

 "The Despair" a Low-Budget Journey Through the Mind of Addiction 
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Shot on a budget of $17,000, writer/director Mike Crawford's The Despair is best described as a psychological horror film that delves deep inside the inner turmoil and tribulations plaguing a small group of drug addicts who decide to leave a rehab facility and spend a weekend at a New Jersey cabin.

The story kicks off inside the rehab facility with Sean (Nicholas Wilder) and Cliff (Josh Davidson), two of the facility's more hardcore addicts who put on a tremendous show of boisterous bravado that for Cliff is quite genuine yet for Sean is much more a mask for his genuine desire to live a cleaner life. Cliff persuades Sean and a small group of others to leave the facility with Sean's girlfriend Vicky (Molly Heckard) joining them for what starts out as a seemingly innocent escape. Then, Christine (Jen Kurtz) shows up with some crystal meth and everything begins to spiral out of control. The group decides to go for a walk in the woods, discovers an abandoned factory and, not surprisingly, what was already spiraling out of control becomes completely chaotic when Christine ends up missing and one-by-one the members of our group are faced with choosing sobriety and survival or addiction and potential elimination.

The weaving together of the horrifying world of addiction into a horrifying story is an intriguing choice that works well for Mike Crawford, who has taken a challenging topic and created compelling, if occasionally stereotypical, characters whose entire beings seem swallowed up by their addictions.

As evidenced by its win of the Viewer's Choice Award at the Sharp Mountain Film Festival, The Despair will likely be popular with those who can appreciate hard-hitting dramas bathed in reality-based horror. While the film is definitely hindered by its low budget, Crawford wisely emphasizes his story here and the approach works wonders. Crawford also rather brilliantly tosses in some unexpected delights, ranging from Tuvan singing that creates a rather striking atmosphere to some rather striking camera work courtesy of Crawford and Joseph Nasto along with Ben Chandler's mood-altering original music.

It's doubtful that The Despair would work for all audiences, both because of its intense subject matter and because the film's occasional technical and acting challenges may prove to be a tad challenging for more mainstream audiences. Editing on a low budget is always a challenge, but there are a few scenes contained within The Despair that really needed a smoother transition for maximum emotional resonance. Likewise, in lower budgeted films the acting is typically a bit more hit-and-miss because filmmakers don't have the luxury of non-stop reshoots until everything is perfect. That said, the film's ensemble cast clearly understands the dramatic foundation underneath Crawford's script and for the most part they carry it off quite nicely.

The Despair had a 2-week run at Lansdowne, PA's 16.9 Cinema, and is a surefire indicator of Crawford's eye for the appropriate staging of highly dramatic cinema. Crawford and the team at Neptune Media are hoping that the film can be marketed to addicts and those in recovery, perhaps as an accompaniment to the rehab journey as an honest and authentic illustration of the downward spiral of addiction.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic