Film

Nathan Silver’s ‘Stinking Heaven’ Is an Acute, Improvised Study of Group Dynamics

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A lo-fi, high-volatility psychodrama, Nathan Silver’s Stinking Heaven, the 31-year-old director’s fifth feature, ricochets with raw, mercurial responses.

Set in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1990 — and shot in era-appropriate cruddy video — the film tracks an intergenerational group of recovering addicts living in the single-story suburban home of a young married couple, Jim (Keith Poulson) and Lucy (Deragh Campbell). “We’re all community here. We’re all one big family,” one of the older housemates, Kevin (Henri Douvry, who bears an unsettling resemblance to Jerry Sandusky), tells the latest arrival, Ann (Hannah Gross), the devious ex of Betty (Eléonore Hendricks), Kevin’s bride of a few days. The gray-haired junkie’s benign welcome is, of course, another way of announcing that the residents are all made miserable by — and wholly dependent on — one another’s petty tyrannies.

Never a banal depiction of dysfunctional group dynamics, Stinking Heaven, which was shaped, as in Silver’s previous work, largely through improvisation, remains consistently absorbing: The actors’ agile reflexes keep scenes unpredictable as their characters react to passive-aggressive slights or terrifying paroxysms of rage.

“Love never ends,” according to the lyrics of the home’s unofficial anthem; Silver and his talented troupe demonstrate that there’s more horror than hope in that declaration.

Stinking Heaven

Directed by Nathan Silver

Factory 25

Opens December 9, Anthology Film Archives

Available on Fandor and iTunes