Director: Nadine Crocker
Starring: Nadine Crocker, Shiloh Fernandez, Lio Tipton, Emily Deschanel, Dale Dickey, Kat Foster, Anthony Caravella
There’s a highly persuasive, ever-present current of emotional honesty which underpins and anchors Continue, a deeply felt indie drama about a young woman’s struggles with crippling depression and suicidal ideation. Based on the real-life mental health difficulties of multi-hyphenate Nadine Crocker, the movie is a highly personal work which rather successfully melds DIY, low-budget, calling-card filmmaking with what might be deemed advocacy cinema.
Continue, fresh off a spotlight presentation at Cinequest 2022, opens with a trashed Dean (Crocker) in the middle of a terrible depressive episode, wherein she tries to take her own life. Her boyfriend Jackson (Anthony Caravella, also a producer and Crocker’s real-life husband) finds her, and sends her off in an ambulance. After 40-plus stitches, Dean is placed in a protective care facility, where she meets and bonds with Bria (credited here onscreen as Analeigh Tipton, but as Tio Tipton in press materials), a young woman struggling with substance abuse issues. An emotionally charged visit with Dean’s sister Bennett (Kat Foster) sheds further light on some of their shared mental health struggles, and dark family history.
When she gets out of the institution (which also features a couple other recognizable faces, in the form of a nurse played by Dale Dickey, and a doctor portrayed by Emily Deschanel), Dean meets Trenton (a superb Shiloh Fernandez), a sensitive young man who at first blush seems good for her, and a grounding presence. The pair share a great deal in terms of tragic parental abandonment. Dean’s mother died of a heroin overdose when she was five years old, and her dad committed suicide 10 years ago; Trenton’s father died of lung cancer, and his mother chose a life with an abusive new partner over him, leading Trenton to cut her out of his life.
For a while, Dean seems stable, and charting an upward path. But seeing her ex-beau Jackson is deeply triggering for Dean, particularly when he pulls no punches about the damaging aftereffects of their relationship, and Dean’s inability to accept his attempts to help her. This leads to an immediate relapse, where a drunken Dean assaults Trenton, and smashes up a room in her home. The looming question, then, is what path forward Dean will chart, and whether it will include Trenton, Bria, or any other friends.
Continue bears just a couple marks of the stylistic overindulgence which mars a great many indie projects — most notably in an overly affected opening, which seems to suffer from the weight of a desperate passion to simply grab viewers and make them pay attention. But these and other small intemperances (a slightly padded running time of 115 minutes) can be fairly easily forgiven, given the connection of its maker to the material — especially when Continue is otherwise grounded by a solid technical package which helps reinforce its strengths. Cinematographer Sy Turnbull locates a compelling and intimate visual palette, and editor Jing Han (notwithstanding a couple music video-influenced segments) establishes a nice rhythm between tenderness and immediacy, particularly in scenes with Dean and Trenton.
Even though it’s about young people, Continue gives off a certain starting-out-in-the-evening vibe — of wearily realizing that the entire direction of one’s life is adrift, and that almost all its choices, accumulated and individual, have been poisoned by pain and hurt, and wrongly made. (There’s a nice sequence in which a character sings that, “rock bottom can be a beautiful place to start.”)
As writer, director, and star, Crocker (whose other credits include 2016’s Cabin Fever remake/sequel) has a lot on her plate. But she attacks the scripted material with a full-tilt energy that is at times painful to watch (which is of course part of the point). Dean would be difficult to be close with in real life, but she’s absorbing to watch because of how close to the surface her rawness is.
The film has a strong sense of which details linger and matter — Dean recounting the feeling of wet carpet upon discovering her dad’s body, for example — along with some smartly chosen moments of combustibility, like Dean exploding with anger at once again being called “strong.” It’s this type of keenly observed lived experience which helps separate and elevate Continue from many movies which tread the same narrative terrain. This and the movie’s unvarnished lack of vanity (put bluntly, its foregrounding of faces which have seen some shit) are the twin pillars upon which its grounded sense of vérité rest.
The list of movies addressing depression, mental health issues and drug abuse is a long and healthy one, many no doubt touchstones and points of reference for Crocker in the development of her screenplay. But Continue is a film that, in addition to that, also looks in a substantive way at the partner(s) of an addict or mentally ill person. In that respect, it thematically recalls films like Smashed and Blue Valentine, The Souvenir and When a Man Loves a Woman — movies in which addiction and/or self-destructive behavior are interwoven into the examination of a relationship which ultimately may or may not be right for the person most in the throes of their disease. That specific answer may not always be an easy one, but, as Continue’s title suggests, there is one certain way forward.
Written by: Brent Simon