Wednesday 31 August 2022

Independent Film Review: Root Letter (2022) ★★★★★

Not many films render me silent, staring into space and trying to piece together what I've just seen. Root Letter is a gritty, uncomfortably realistic film that delves into the heart of both the opioid crisis and the lasting effects of families torn apart by deportation. Despite the heavy topics, director Sonja O'Hara lifts the weight from viewers' shoulders, telling the story through the letters of pen pals Carlos (Danny Ramirez, Top Gun: Maverick) and Sarah (Keana Marie, Dash & Lily).

Keana Marie is Sarah Blake & Kate Edmunds is Zoe | Root Letter 2022 | Independent Film Review

Carlos and Sarah are randomly paired through a school pen pal programme. Carlos lives in severe poverty, working his way through school while his mother has been deported to Mexico and his father lives in another state. Sarah is bringing herself up while witnessing the horror of her mother being eaten alive by an opioid addiction. Sarah is already living on the edge when her best friend Caleb decides to get in on the opioid-selling game with the dangerous and unhinged Jackson.

And then Sarah's letters to Carlos stop. He decides to carry on with his life, settling back into the grind of working to survive, but is stopped in his tracks when one last, anguished letter arrives from Sarah. Now, with Sarah missing, Carlos must retrace her steps and try to piece together what happened in those final days before she disappeared.

Keana Marie is Sarah Blake & Breon Pugh is Caleb | Root Letter 2022 | Independent Film Review

Based on the best-selling Japanese video game by Kadokawa Games and written by Tribeca Film Festival-winning screenwriter David Ebeltoft, Root Letter is a stunning feat of misdirection and devastating storytelling. There are no mansions or fancy cars in the lives of these teenagers, just a desperate drive to get through each day and make it out alive.

Throughout the film, Dan McBride's cinematography lifts the viewer from the depths of addiction, poverty and betrayal to the love, light and emotion of teenage friendships and connections made. The juxtaposition of dark and light makes the reality ever more jarring.

Danny Ramirez and Keana Marie give powerful performances as Carlos and Sarah, utterly believable and commanding every scene that they are in. I liked Ramirez in Top Gun: Maverick and Look Both Ways and now he is firmly on my list of young actors to watch.

Root Letter 2022 | Independent Film Review
I give Root Letter an excellent five out of five stars. This gritty thriller is perfect for fans of Euphoria and those who prefer a healthy serving of dark reality with their teen mysteries. In the meantime, I'm off to check out Doomsday which both director Sonja O'Hara and cinematographer Dan McBride worked on.

Trailer: Root Letter (2022), dir. Sonja O'Hara


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