WATCH – HORRIFYING Documentary –
August 6, 2020 – Hasan Oswald’s first movie – part of the 2020 San Antonio Film Festival’s lineup – is a dependable and narrowly focused diorama of drug addiction in urban America. “Dependable” is an adjective that doesn’t have to do much heavy lifting here; the stories Oswald captures don’t garner groundbreaking insight so much as the dreadfully familiar cycles of surrender to the needle, vocalizations of self-defeat and false starts on self-improvement that we’ve seen played out in all manner of storytelling from “60 Minutes” special to awards-bait Hollywood production (Remember “Beautiful Boy”?). We, of course, can’t hold that against Oswald—if there’s one thing the filmmaker gets across with his occasionally devastating observations in “Higher Love” (yes, he makes good use of the title’s double entendre) it’s that the possibility we’ll become numb to headlines of lower-class families destroyed by the influence of drugs is exactly the reason we need to continue seeing these stories, getting to know these people, sympathize with their struggles.
The struggles we see in Oswald’s movie are largely endured by Daryl and Nani, two Black residents of Camden, New Jersey for whom the latter’s need to throw her heroine dependence has never been more urgent—she’s expecting a child. They’ve been dealing with the effects of drugs on their relationship for so long that when we meet Daryl while searching for Nani in Camden’s run-down neighborhoods early on, it’s obvious it’s not the first time (and perhaps not the tenth) they’ve been through this. Oswald cuts from Daryl’s here-we-go-again eyes scoping out every alley to Nani barely able to keep her eyes open while she gets high and vents about her partner’s constant surveillance; it’s an engrossing way to start the movie, one whose structure is otherwise formal from here on out.