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Back Roads – Review

Back Roads - Review
Back Roads - Review
Back Roads - Review


Release Date: 7 December [USA]
Director: Alex Pettyfer
Writer: Tawny O’Dell - [Screenplay & Novel] - Adrian Lyne [Screenplay]
Cast: Alex Pettyfer - Jennifer Morrison - Nicola Peltz



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Posted January 2, 2019 by

Back Roads – Review

Harley Altmyer (Alex Pettyfer) has a lot of responsibility for a young man. After his mother, Bonnie (Juliette Lewis), killed his abusive father and was sent to jail, Harley was left in charge of his three younger sisters. Now he’s stuck in two dead-end jobs, drinking too much, and struggling to make ends meet as his siblings drive him crazy.

The only solace Harley can find is in the neighbour down the street, Callie Mercer (Jennifer Morrison), a mother of two who seems to be unappreciated by her husband. But when the two begin a relationship, Harley’s life only gets more complicated, and opens the door to family secrets he never wanted to confront. To say the Altmyers are a dysfunctional family is putting it mildly – this family is messed up, perhaps even beyond saving.

This stark drama is not for the faint of heart. What begins as a murder mystery soon takes a turn for the macabre with more and more disturbing facets of the Altmyer family being uncovered. This is the kind of film that you have to pay close attention to in order to make the connections between the character histories. Everything is relevant.

Back Roads - Review

Alex Pettyfer’s directorial debut is surprisingly well-executed. Working off of Tawni O’Dell’s screenplay, based on her critically-acclaimed 2010 novel of the same name, Pettyfer manages to create a bleak portrayal of a family stuck in the middle of nowhere with little opportunity for a better life. The pacing of the film is effective and none of the scenes felt like they overstayed their welcome. Pettyfer’s ability to create an atmosphere of dread for the duration of the film makes the denouement that much more plausible.

It helps that O’Dell’s screenplay is strong. Though she seems to have stripped the film of some of the book’s dark humour, she expertly captures the dissonance of the characters’ lives against their vain efforts for a better future. O’Dell also manages to keep the tension building throughout and slowly ekes out the various startling revelations about the family.

Pettyfer also carries the film as its protagonist and he does an admirable job in portraying Harley’s exhaustion and dissatisfaction in the role he has found himself trapped in. Unfortunately, at 28, Pettyfer is just not believable as the 19-year-old Harley. He ends up coming across more as a father figure to all the siblings, rather than a beleaguered teenager. I understand the need to cast an older actor for the role, due to the subject matter, but Pettyfer looks much too mature in relation to the rest of the cast, which affects the scenes where Harley’s youth is highlighted.

Nicola Peltz, who plays Amber, the oldest sibling after Harley, does the rebellious teenager role well, keeping the audience guessing about the reasons behind her constant outbursts and her odd behaviour towards her brother.

The youngest siblings, Misty and Jody, played by Chiara Aurelia and Hala Finley, respectively, are outstanding in their scenes. Aurelia captures the complexity of Misty, while Finley does justice to the precocious 6-year-old Jody.

Jennifer Morrison is almost shoehorned into the role of Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, but one particular scene gives her Callie the agency so many MPDGs have been denied in the past. Morrison’s Callie isn’t just a woman who exists to further the protagonist’s story – instead, she has her own desires and her own belief system, no matter how flawed, and just happens to allow Harley to enter her life to fulfil her own purposes.

The standout performances in Back Roads were by Juliette Lewis, as Harley’s mother Bonnie, and June Carryl, who plays Harley’s state-appointed psychologist, Betty. Lewis only has two scenes but perfectly captures the hurt and despair of Bonnie’s unfortunate situation. The scene where Bonnie is confronted by Harley about the truth about his father was stunningly brutal to watch.

June Carryl could have phoned in her scenes as Betty, but instead she gives a realistic performance as a psychologist who becomes too invested in the well-being of her patient. Her final scene is particularly powerful, and emotional, and an understandable journey for a character who has been privy to the family’s painful secrets.

Back Roads is a difficult film to watch. It doesn’t hold back when examining the subject matter of its source material, nor does it shy away from displaying the bizarre personalities, and actions, of its central family. This is the kind of film that will make you glad you don’t hang out with your neighbours – who knows what literal skeletons they have in their closet.


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Louis Skye
Freelance Contributor

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