December 3, 2011 -- This experimental film appears to be a hybrid, a combination of two different film styles, drama and documentary, with elements of each. The entire film is centered on memories of things unseen. The film concerns Cory, a young man who recently died of a drug overdose. Filming takes place around the time of the funeral. The funeral itself isn't shown. A memorial reception at a bar is shown, where we see a photograph of the deceased.
In fact, the film isn't a documentary, but a very loosely scripted film with a lot of improvization by the actors, but it sure looks like a documentary. This entire film was essentially improvised on location in a neighborhood in Baltimore and shot on a shoestring budget. The result is a haunting portrait of blue collar working class America, just above the poverty line. It looks very genuine, like a very real slice of American life.
The film opens with an empty house which has very little furniture in it. Near the end of the film two people return to this same house, looking for something to remind them of Cory. What impact did Cory have on the world? What did he leave behind? Will the memories people have of him last for long? Will he eventually be forgotten? These universal themes reverberate throughout the film.
Along with that are the glimpses of modern American life, young people with paintball guns playing military games, perhaps unwittingly preparing for battles with real bullets, an old woman living in a comfortable retirement facility, who is seemingly better off than any other character in the film. What will the lives of most of these characters look like when they stop working? Several ex-cons are interviewed, including a tattoo artist. One of the ex-cons served time in prison with Cory.
One scene takes place at a local skateboard park, where skateboarders and BMX bikers do impressive stunts. One young man said that Cory used to frequent the skateboard park. He was one of the best in a talented bunch. There is one very emotional scene in the movie in which a young woman is very angry and upset with a relative. Other than that, everyone seems rather subdued, as you would expect during a funeral gathering. The memorial service at a bar, complete with karaoke performances seems particularly authentic.
What really gives the film its documentary feel, however, is the technique of an off-screen voice interviewing people in the movie. This is done in a few places throughout the movie. It is a technique used almost exclusively in documentary films. The off-screen voice reminds you there is somebody behind the camera. It takes you out of the illusion of a drama, and replaces that illusion with another, a documentary illusion. This has been done in so-called “mockumentary” films like “A Mighty Wind” or “Best in Show,” but those are comedies. I've never seen this technique used before in a drama like this. It is a novel way to introduce characters.
This film was written and directed by Matt Porterfield, who also directed another low-budget indy film, “Hamilton” in 2006. Porterfield shows a lot of promise as a director, and at least one of the stars of Putty Hill, sexy Sky Ferreira (who plays Jenny), has star potential. While this film could win some kind of award for getting the most out of a limited budget, the low budget of the film is a handicap that isn't fully overcome. The improvised narrative falls apart at times and poor sound quality plagues some scenes. It is an experimental film that works part of the time and fails part of the time. It is a mixed bag. This film rates a C.
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