Every now and again I find myself pleasantly surprised about something that comes my way, the subject of this article being a prime example. A couple of weeks ago I received a short message via this website, it read as follows:
“I was wondering if you would be interested in discussing our new short film Junkie Heaven. It Stars Joseph Halsey and Sal Rendino.
Doyle Burkett is an Iraqi war vet who is suffering from PTSD and he also happens to be a junkie willing to do anything to get his fix. After he wakes from a night of using, Doyle is greeted by Alexander, a spiritual being who gives Doyle the choice to turn the tide of an ancient war. Now Doyle must steal an ancient artifact that will tip the scales of good versus evil or walk with Alexander into the afterlife.
Below is the trailer.
If you are interested, I can send you the film.
It’s safe to say that after watching the trailer my interest was certainly piqued, so much so that I immediately messaged Lee back with an unequivocal yes and I would love to have a looksee st his film. And so I did. At 18 minutes in length Junkie Heaven is a surprisingly ambitious drama containing an effective cocktail of fantasy, thriller and psychological trauma that at times makes for a distinctly uneasy viewing. Now before you go and accuse me of stating the obvious in that any story of PTSD & heroin addiction isn’t exactly going to be a laugh a minute cinematic experience, the point wasn’t made as a criticism.
On the contrary the fact that this film challenges the feeling of comfort one usually experiences in modern cinema, sometimes even with films containing controversial issues such as this, that lack of comfort is most definitely a good thing. If the intention was to make the viewer feel like they are taking part in some voyeuristic participation in the the hopeless depths people can find themselves in then they have succeeded immensely. The drug taking scenes in the first sections of the film are suitably graphic and perfectly bring home the hopeless depravity with an authentic approach that neither sensationalises or ridicules the situation.
This chilling authenticity is provided gravitas both in the finely crafted dialogue (written by the aformentioned Lee Kolinsky) which at times is deliciously crisp and biting as well as the fine performances of the main characters. Special mention should really be given to portrayal of the lead character, Doyle by actor Josephs Halsey who is quite simply mesmerising in his role. What could have easily been a cliched and over-acted depiction of a drug addled PTSD sufferer given the chance of spiritual redemption, is instead a well measured and richly textured performance from an actor from whom I would now expect big things in the years to come.
Halsey is more than ably supported by Sal Rendino playing the mysterious other-worldly being who may or may not be bringer of personal salvation. The well crafted dialogue I mentioned earlier is particularly strong in the caustic and menacing exchanges between the two lead characters. If you add the nice touches of tight and occasionally innovative direction from Steve Sage the result is a throughly enjoyable viewing experience, full of power and intelligence.
That’s not to say that the film is perfect, because it isn’t. The weakest section of Junkie Heaven is perhaps a rather meandering middle section which lets down the overall pacing somewhat. In addition there are a couple of ‘rushed’ segments that were probably more a result of time and budget constraints rather than the ability of cast and crew. However, these are but minor issues and don’t detract from the overall sense that this film and its makers should be getting far more plaudits as time goes on.