(director/writer: Jordana Spiro; screenwriter: Angelica Nwandu; cinematographer: Hatuey Viveros Lavielle; editor: Taylor Levy; music: Matthew Robert Cooper, Nathan Halpern; cast:  Dominque Fishback (Angel LaMere), Tatum Marilyn Hall (Abby LaMere), Natashia Fuller (The Mother), Cymbal Byrd (Maya), James McDaniel (Parole Officer), John Earl Jelks (John LaMere, the father), Max Casella (Marcus), Journee Brown (Lena), Antu Yacob (Lena’s Mom) ; Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jonathan Montepare, Alvaro R. Valente, Danielle Renfrew Behrens; Samuel Goldwyn Films; 2018)

“It has a positive force playing out as a revenge thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An assured feature debut for actress-turned-director Jordana Spiro (currently appearing on Netflix’s Ozark) in this juvenile offender drama. Spiro co-wrote it with Angelica Nwandu, founder of the Instagram-based gossip hub the Shade Room. Nwandu uses autobiographical stories from her life such as at seven, Nwandu’s father killed her mother.  It has a positive force playing out as a revenge thriller about a daughter out to pay back those who committed her mother’s murder, and the emotional story of two non-communicative sisters looking to make together a strong family bond.

When the 18-year-old Angel (Dominique Fishback) is released from a juvenile detention facility near Philadelphia after serving time on weapons charges, she buys a gun from the sleazy Philly gun dealer Marcus (Max Casella), the father of her former cellmate, to kill her father for killing her mother (Natashia Fuller). To help locate her missing father, she frees her little 10-year-old sister Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall) from foster care, in the home of a white foster mother, to help her track him down. The point is made of the flaws of the foster care program, as the foster children live in squalor in the basement while the foster parent’s kids live in comfort in their own rooms upstairs. The girls embark on a dangerous journey, where they encounter men who are either useless or bad sorts. Angel will also meet with her unhelpful gruff parole officer (James McDaniel) and her childhood girlfriend Maya (Cymbal Byrd).

On a bus trip to the beach, on the Jersey shore, the sisters spend a fruitful day together. Angel is very protective of her sister and wants only the best for her, while Abby welcomes the closeness of a big sister. As their journey continues, an unexpected twist occurs when Angel confronts her troubled father (John Jelks) who is still trying to find answers for his downfall.

The young women give appealing performances, making us feel their pain and root for them to let go of the dark past and realize the light in a new day.

REVIEWED ON 9/19/2018       GRADE: B+