Tribeca Review: Back Roads


It can be tough to watch a movie that deals with difficult subjects. If you’re watching a movie where a character’s life spirals out of control due to alcoholism, it can be incredibly hard to sit through if you’ve struggled with alcoholism in the past. These themes can be painful to experience, both in real life and on screen, but it’s important to remember that life isn’t easy for everyone. People have problems in life that you only wish you could understand. 

When I sat down to watch Back Roads, the first image I was greeted with was a black screen with text that told me that our main characters were abused as children and their mother was sent to jail for killing their father. For the next 108 minutes, all I felt was disgust and horror, but in a good way. You know, for as much as I can enjoy watching several children’s life fall apart around them. 

Back Roads
Director: Alex Pettyfer
Release Date: April 21 (Tribeca Film Festival)

Harley is a young man who is forced to become the man of the house. His mother was sent to jail for killing his abusive father and his life is pretty crap all things considered. He works two dead-end jobs to support his three sisters. One is 6 years old and is your typical little girl, one is 12 who is going through typical teenage issues plus all of the crap that she went through before her father died, and an 18-year-old who makes Marley’s life a living hell with her constant stream of sexcapades and trying to move out. Then there’s the neighbor that Harley starts to fall for, all while dealing with a deteriorating mental state. So everything’s pretty awful all thing’s considered, and it only gets worse as the movie goes on. 

I’ve never seen characters beaten emotionally as badly as I do in Back Roads. Every scene we get a new revelation that just makes Harley’s life more miserable and further solidifies that everyone in his family is psychotic. All of his sisters, minus the 6-year-old, have deep mental issues that go beyond just typical movie drama. Nearly every character is broken and the movie doesn’t really make a big deal out of it. Terrible things happen, people cry, but there’s never any sympathy towards what these kids are going through.

On one hand, I can respect that it doesn’t try to make child abuse accessible. There are no cartoonishly evil people. The father, even though we never see him, isn’t portrayed as an evil monster. Rather, everyone is wrong and Harley is just meant to take everyone’s burden. If the message of the movie is to show how child abuse hurts everyone involved, then mission goddamn accomplished, because by the end I felt dead inside. This movie makes No Country For Old Men look like a Disney movie. 

I can’t say that the movie wasn’t effective though. The revelations were fast and always threw me for a curve. There was never a time where I felt like I knew what was going to happen. Whenever Harley learned some new information, I couldn’t wait to see how he would react to it and how he would confront other characters with this knowledge. Those confrontations never disappointed. 

But Back Roads just loves to revel in the misery of its characters. I would be tempted to call this torture porn, but it’s all psychological torture that Harley has to go through. You feel bad for the guy and what happens to him and you feel nothing but sympathy for him. But the movie just has that one tone throughout. It’s an hour and a half of watching a man get emotionally destroyed and while it is very well done, it’s not for everyone. It’s a gripping time, but you’ll need all of the booze in the world the numb the pain that you’ll feel afterwards. 

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.