Movie: *** out of 5
Video: *** 1/2
Audio: *** 1/2
Extras: ** 1/2
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Heaven Knows What’ — Starring Arielle Holmes on Blogcritics.
There’s no shortage of films made about drug addiction. And if they
have one thing in common, it’s to make the viewer feel as judgmental as
possible. What they never try to be, at least, are feel good films. Requiem for a Dream, Trainspotting, Basketball Diaries, Less Than Zero, and Reefer Madness, not one of those titles — ok, maybe Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical or anything starring Cheech and Chong or friends of Judd Apatow — are meant to glorify drug use. And the autobiographical Heaven Knows What — featuring Arielle Holmes in a life-saving role — is no exception.
meet homeless/drug addicted Harley (Holmes) begging forgiveness from
Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones) on the streets of New York City. What she’s
done is never really explained, but Harley is at her wits end to make
things right. Eventually, Harley asks if she should kill herself to
prove her worth to Ilya and he accepts her proposal, leading her to slit
her wrist in public. After getting out of Bellevue, she’s back where
she started, scoring drugs from her dealer Mike (Buddy Duress), while
trying to keep up with her unrequited love of Ilya. As you can guess,
things wind up going south, with everyone’s lives on the line. Even if
it’s at their own hands.
Anchor Bay has given Heaven Knows What a gracious transfer.
While on a 50GB disc, the film wears its budget on its sleeves. Gritty
and realistic, the picture almost takes on a 16mm aesthetic, even though
filmed digitally. Not sure if there was some post-work done on it, but
it does lend a more theatrical look. Detail is never as razor sharp as
you’d expect from a digital shoot, but nothing ever looks exactly out of
focus or smeary. There’s also no crush — in some instances the image
also looks too bright — or aliasing, although there are a few shots with
some slight noise. As for the 2.0 Stereo track, it sounds more lively
than you’d expect, probably thanks to being upscaled on my 7.1 system.
Dialogue is always clean, with a decent amount of surround use. The only
drawback is the lack of any good LFE considering the random use of
techno-heavy music. Spanish and English subtitles for the deaf and
hearing impaired are also included.
The special features are the more interesting part of the disc. “A Hot Two Weeks—The Making of Heaven Knows What” (17:00) catches us up with Holmes on the set of her next movie (American Honey)
where she discusses how life changing and lifesaving it was to be
discovered by directors/brothers Ben and Joshua Safdie. Apparently they
found her “Russian look” interesting, and even more so when they heard
her Jersey accent. The Safdies encouraged her to write about her own
life and it wasn’t until later that she admitted to being homeless. We
also get to see footage of the real Ilya clowning around, just making
the film’s dedication to him the most moving part of the whole endeavor
when we learn that he has passed since the film’s production.
batch of deleted scenes make up the bulk of the remaining features:
“Skully’s Move/Harley’s Past” (2:52), “Stooping” (2:21), “Ariel Pink vs.
Doug Levinson” (2:15), and “Mike and Harley and the Future” (2:21) just
offer up more of the same vagrancy we’ve already seen. An Ariel Pink
music video (3:28) is also featured, along with a pre-menu trailer for It Follows.
There is a message buried somewhere in the dumping grounds of Holmes’
fictionalized story, but the directors — along with co-writer Ronald
Bronstein adapting Holmes’ book — miss the mark. Whatever they were
trying to say comes through more in the special features as we see
Holmes rise up to budding actress, leaving behind drug-fueled
wastelands. Heaven Knows What definitely isn’t for everyone, but
Holmes does give a powerful performance that could be worth a look. As a
whole, the film just doesn’t add up to its pieces. With only one
interesting special feature, so-so video/audio, and downbeat storyline,
the film could find an audience, I’m just not sure who it would be. It
definitely has an arthouse feel to it, but even the artsy fartsy crowd
won’t find enough to leave a lasting impression.