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Tribeca 2018 Review: “Back Roads” (2018) ★★★★★


What can be worse than the thought that hitting a person is another way of expressing love to them? When the verbal, physical, and even sexual abuse comes from someone who is meant to protect the unity of the family, it simply ruins the healthiness of the family relationships. To be able to stop this turmoil that will soon advance into the last stage of cancer, there should be a long discussion which should begin with accepting the urgency of the matter.

I can’t remember the last time I was so absorbed with one particular film that I could not control my own emotions any longer. The film “Back Roads” manages to deliver a story that is all I needed not as a film critic but as a viewer interested in the subject. Based on a novel by Tawni O’Dell and directed by the first-time director Alex Pettyfer, who also plays the lead role, the film tackles a painful subject and proves its place in the history of cinema.  It took me a while to process and analyze the film and what it tells about. It makes us all think about how powerless we are in the face of injustice many families face every day. And yet, we do nothing to stop it.

“Back Roads” tells a story of one broken family. Harley (Alex Pettyfer) struggles to look after his three younger sisters while his mother serves her time in prison. We don’t know much about what has happened to the family and why the mother (Juliet Lewis) has decided to pull the trigger. The family’s wounds bleed and are not to be healed anytime soon. The many unanswered questions make it even worse. Only a person with cold nerves can deal with this situation. In the film, we do not meet the family’s abusive father, but we encounter with the heavy and devastating aftermath of what he has done to the family which will not need ages to get back on their feet. If ever.

Harley works in a local grocery store helping customers to arrange their goods in bags. He falls for a married woman Callie (Jennifer Morrison) who is his co-worker and is older than him. She does not seem to mind having an affair with him, although keeps her boundaries. Harley’s sister Amber has uncontrolled temper caused by the abuse by her father. The two other sisters – Misty and Jody have also become victims of the damaged family, even if they don’t realize the true degree of the damage yet.

In the opening scene of the film, we find Harley sitting in front of the investigator who asks him about the murder that occurred. We are about to be introduced to a new victim of Altmeyer’s family and are yet to find out the cause of it, as well as the chain of events that led to that horrific moment. As the story unfolds, the viewer finds out that there are too many things going on in this family, who are forced to face the truly heartbreaking aftermath of the abusive relationship that has left an irreversible footprint on everyone in the family.

Harley is a richly written character. His mother Bonnie, sisters Amber, Jody, and Misty are the characters you will be rooting for constantly. You will feel their pain, the scream of their hearts, and the reasons why they did what they did or their decision to continue carrying that trauma throughout their lives. For instance, the kids have never seen any normal relationship and do not understand how damaged they are. They continuously keep looking at each other asking one questions: “Why Mom did not stop our father when he hit us or sexually harassed is?” Bonnie’s answer is heartbreaking: “How could you ever ask such things to anyone?”

Overall, it is an emotionally impactful family drama that evolves around the family abuse, the way it has been handled, the victims’ point of view and what could be done to prevent it. It also asks a very important question: if nothing can be fixed, how to help the family to enter the healing path? What measures need to be taken in order to remove the root cause of it? And if the cause is gone but the symptoms of tragedy still occur, how to remove that? Through absolutely powerful performances delivered by the entire cast, Alex Pettyfer’s “Back Roads” is one of the best films I’ve seen and probably, the same goes for you. It provides an insight of a family tragedy and abuse without abusing the concept itself. Everything offered in the film is in place. Emotions shown are necessary and the moment of payback is important as well. It’s a sad story that touches every single family that goes through the same nightmare. And in case you are one of them, maybe it’s best to stay away from it not to scratch the wound that might have started healing.


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