Writer/Director Josh Stewart’s new film Back Fork is a harrowing look at the current opioid epidemic in the States. It is both raw and unflinching as it grabs a hold of you and shoves you down into the rabbit hole of addiction. There it leaves you to free fall until you eventually hit rock bottom. It is one of the most realistic films dealing with addiction that I have ever seen. So often films portray drugs as a conduit to a cooler life or a harmless band-aid for pain. When it comes to the true underbelly of addiction so often we only see it in the faces of characters living on the streets. Josh brings it to light using characters who represent those who are currently struggling the most, regular people just like you and me.
This film hit close to home for me so I had to take a few steps back after watching it to really let it all soak in. Addiction is a difficult thing to talk about since people spend a lifetime trying to hide it under a mask. I know many people who have struggled with all sorts of addiction. But, opioid addiction is a monster in its own right. Josh broaches the subject head-on and refuses to sugarcoat anything.
Even though there may be many paths which lead to addiction, the story ends in only one of two ways: sobriety or death. Josh doesn’t shy away from this truth. He allows the audience to see all sides of addiction from the addict’s point of view to the pain it causes their loved ones. It’s hard to watch anyone destroy their life but especially those you love.
Like I mentioned before, the characters in Back Fork all seem like people we actually know in life. Friends. Family. Neighbors. I won’t go into detail about the struggles Josh wrote for the characters so there won’t be any major spoilers. However, I did want to point out how incredible Josh and A.J. Cook are as ‘Waylon’ and ‘Nida’. There is a sense of comfort in their relationship on screen with a little bit of tension floating just under the surface. Granted Josh and A.J. have played a couple for many years on Criminal Minds, but somehow they added an entirely different layer to their already dynamic chemistry together.
Josh also reunites with his The Hunted and The Dark Knight Rises co-star Ronnie Gene Blevins. Ronnie’s performance as ‘Jimmy’ holds an incredible tenderness and warmth. It is amazing how well he subtlety shifts his concern as the story progresses. It is a far cry from him being frightened and running through the woods in The Hunted (Josh’s directorial debut).
Back Fork is set in a small logging town in West Virginia which parallels perfectly to the real life opioid epidemic happening all across small town America. This film is a wake up call. Drug addiction is no longer something that only happens behind closed doors or hidden in dark alleyways. It is happening in broad daylight and it is without any prejudice. It will strike down anyone regardless of age, gender, social status, finances or career success. It is unassuming and brutal in its attack. And it is now standing right in front of you. Back Fork rips off the mask of addiction and forces us to face this crisis. It is finally time to talk about the monster in the room.