'Shooting Heroin': Film Review

Shooting Heroin - Publicity still 1 - H 2020
Veritas Films
Well intentioned, but misses the mark.

Sherilyn Fenn, Alan Powell, Nicholas Turturro and Cathy Moriarty appear in Spencer T. Folmar's drama about a group of vigilante townspeople who resolve to fight the spread of drugs in their Rust Belt community.

America's opioid crisis would seem too dire a subject to receive shallow cinematic treatment. So it's ironic, then, that Spencer T. Folmar's thriller suffers from not quite being exploitative enough. Shooting Heroin purports to be a serious examination of how drug addiction is decimating American communities, especially in the Rust Belt. But watching the film go through its ponderous paces, you find yourself longing for the extreme vigilante tropes that fueled countless '70s-era thrillers. Presumably, it's not the reaction the filmmaker had in mind.

Set in fictional Whispering Pines, Pennsylvania, the story revolves around three characters who band together to clean up their town of drugs "by any means necessary." All have strong motivations. Adam (Alan Powell, Quantico, delivering a suitably brooding performance), a single father and war veteran, has a recovering addict sister (Daniella Mason) who relapses after an accident and suffers a fatal overdose; Hazel (Sherilyn Fenn, Twin Peaks) lost two sons within a 12-hour span to drugs; and corrections officer Edward (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Welcome Back, Kotter) is deeply angry about working in a prison filled with addicts. After listening to their urgent pleas, the town's sole cop, Jerry (Garry Pastore, The Deuce), happy for any help he can get, agrees to deputize them.

Beginning their crusade by setting up a roadblock with a large sign reading "No Drugs in Town," the trio soon engages in such activities as searching students as they enter school. Adam, pretending to be suffering from severe pain, easily procures a prescription for strong painkillers from a local doctor who doesn't even bother to examine him. Hazel and Edward get the prescription filled by a druggist who doesn't look twice at the huge dose.

Eventually and not surprisingly, things become more violent. Edward brandishes his gun at every opportunity, while Adam accosts a dealer riding into town on a motorcycle and physically assaults a drug-dealing teenager on school property. Before the pic reaches its conclusion, one of the main characters has been tragically killed in a shootout.

Writer-director Folmar, who conceived the film while revisiting his Pennsylvania hometown and witnessing firsthand the devastation caused by rampant drug use, never manages to make the melodramatic proceedings sufficiently compelling. Shooting Heroin seems stuck between its desires to provide both a serious examination of the health crisis and cinematic thrills, ultimately succeeding in neither department.

The dealers, both legal and not, are demonized, and not unjustly, but the pic makes little effort to explore the socioeconomic conditions that make so many people turn to drugs for relief. Nor does it prove satisfying as a revenge drama, delivering little of the visceral guilty pleasure of watching people take the law into their own hands to enact the sort of justice the legal system seems incapable of providing.

The movie, shot on location in Pennsylvania, certainly boasts gloomy atmosphere to spare. The bleak environmental settings and even bleaker homes and businesses on display provide visual correlatives to the despair suffered by the characters. Several well-known performers make strong impressions in supporting roles, including Cathy Moriarty as Adam's hard-edged mother and Nicholas Turturro as an overwhelmed priest, while Fenn delivers a moving performance as the anguished mother desperate to prevent other children from suffering the same fate as her own. Unfortunately, despite all its good intentions, Shooting Heroin lacks the cinematic urgency to get its important message across.  

Available now on VOD
Production company: SpenceTF Productions
Distributor: Veritas Films
Cast: Sherilyn Fenn, Alan Powell, Garry Pastore, Nicholas Turturro, Cathy Moriarty, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs
Director-screenwriter-editor: Spencer T. Folmar
Producers: Spencer T. Folmar, Mark Joseph
Executive producers: Anthony Bambocci, Kevin Brown, Victor Rizzo
Director of photography: John Honore
Production designer: Kimberly Matela
Composer: Mike Newport
Casting: Jennifer Ricchiazzi

Rated R, 90 minutes