Review by Camden Ferrell
Higher Love is a documentary that will be premiering at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival. This film also serves as the directorial debut for Hasan Oswald. While it is often hard to watch, this is a captivating and bleak look into one man’s story of desperation and love.
This movie mostly follows the exploits of one man who is trying to save his drug-addicted girlfriend in Camden, New Jersey. The real pain of this documentary comes from the fact that his girlfriend is pregnant with his son. It’s a gripping story that unfortunately seems to not be limited to this one case. However, it is a premise that is great at communicating the film’s themes.
Oswald constructs this documentary in a way that feels like a traditional narrative playing out. These moments are where the movie feel the most natural and entertaining. He makes a bold creative choice to show the graphic extent of drug abuse and addiction, and that is why this film is thematically effective. It’s a film that will make you want to turn away, but its immediacy compels you to stay with it.
Our main subject, the father, is one that feels three-dimensional. We see him at his best but also at his worst. The documentary is a candid portrait of the emotional turmoil of a man trying to save his family. He does a great job in leading many sections of this documentary, and he really gives it a unique voice. His girlfriend is also a rather interesting subject, and its painful yet engaging to see her journey.
This movie tackles the concept of family. It contrasts the traditional family unit with the drug “family” that the girlfriend joins. It’s an idea that is intriguing, but the way it plays out feels like it could have been done a little better. We get to see both examples of family, but its execution could have been more effective.
The main problem with this movie is how much it deviates from its central story. There are a couple of side stories about drug addiction that prove to be interesting in their own ways, but it feels like more of a distraction. There are times where the main story seems rushed in order to make time for the other subjects. The film’s strongest aspect is its main story, but it loses its stride when it puts its attention elsewhere.
Regardless, the film’s shock value typically makes up for its shortcomings. Oswald has told a story that feels very necessary, and it’s a subject that doesn’t typically get this kind of unembellished treatment. It may feel slow at times, and it may not recognize its strongest attribute, but it’s an affecting saga nonetheless.
Higher Love is a promising debut for Oswald, and it’s one that may resonate deeply with many viewers. It can sometimes jump around a little too much, but it still does a great job in conveying its themes and messages.
Higher Love debuted at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival which runs January 24-30 in Park City, UT.