Set in the white, lower-class, Upstate New York dead-end of Mohawk Valley, Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri's documentary follows four generations of Moshers from one October 31 to the next; between days of the dead, the spooks linger. Halloween itself is a Mosher obsession, a leveler across generations, and their only opportunity all year to take back the night from the family ghosts. The Mosher women are attracted to monster men who impregnate, beat, and then leave them. Unable to learn from the past or break through to the future, the family lives in a zombie state of stasis. No wonder one member of the family claims to be "more afraid of the living than I am of the dead"—even as the Mosher women compulsively breed new life. Will preteen Desi soon fall for the charms of dangerous, virile losers like the Mosher women before her? Or will her preternatural awareness that the choices made by her sister and mom qualify as "retarded" crack the family's tradition of arrested development? The film is best understood as a work of creative nonfiction, employing art-film techniques (including painterly, almost abstract imagery rendered in vivid, lurid living color) to aestheticize a swamp of big issues—the military, poverty, madness, family planning, spousal and child abuse—and give a family's (and America's) angst a clear voice and seductive form without leveling judgment.
Desi is a child at risk.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., March 19–Thurs., March 25. Not rated. 80 minutes.