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Nightcrawlers is a harrowing portrait portrait of addiction

Nightcrawlers is a harrowing portrait portrait of addiction

As a medium, documentary film strives to document the world at a respective distance, letting the subject be the center of their own story. Occasionally, those lines are blurred, and in a rare few cases, they are transposed. Such is the case with Nightcrawlers, the feature debut from filmmaker Stephen McCoy, in which McCoy, drawn to those individuals on the fringes of society, ends up with the camera pointed at himself as he succumbs to his own demon.

Even the beginning of Nightcrawlers is an ominous sign of things to come. We see McCoy filming his last semester at school, as rowdy students fill the classrooms and hallways discussing party plans. The subjects then move from friends and classmates to random individuals on the street, the homeless, the drug addled, the so-called "nightcrawlers." But instead of being an agitator to these already marginalized people, McCoy engages with them as a person truly invested in their story and voice. Despite his age and lack of experience, his ability to approach and speak with these people is a rare gift. It's these moments of brief conversation with strangers that I enjoyed the most.

Woven through these conversations, as well as footage of young people using various forms of substances, is McCoy himself. His presence in front of the camera becomes more and more frequent as the film progresses, as he partakes in more of the activities he is filming. With the camera no longer acting as a barrier, it's these moments when Nightcrawlers is at its most harrowing. Those conversations with prostitutes, and homeless veterans soon devolve into doped-up binges and partying, until he is literally all alone in the woods, or living in a homeless encampment himself.

Films about mental illness and addiction are difficult to make, and are notorious for their exploitation of the subject at hand despite any entertainment value they may possess. Nightcrawlers, with all it's inherent messiness, depicts the cesspool of addiction, the dirt and grim of it, as well as the real people stuck in its clutches. It's not an easy watch, but it's a story worth telling in all it's ugliness, especially as more and more find themselves engulfed in the horror everyday.

Nightcrawlers is screening at PhilaMOCA on June 27th, 7:30pm. Tickets are $12.50, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Broad Street Ministry and their efforts to assist those struggling with addiction. Get tickets here.

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