Greetings again from the darkness. Writer-director Van Maximilian Carlson and co-writer A. Shawn Austin touch on a wide variety of controversial topics in this one: PTSD, Veterans’ Affairs, homelessness, foster care, social workers, and mental illness. At the heart of their story is the touching and strong bond between a father and daughter, even when life’s obstacles become too much to overcome.
Tayler Buck delivers a career-changing performance as Alicia Willis (ANNABELLE: CREATION, 2017), the adolescent daughter of Sgt Beaumont “Bo” Willis (Edi Gathegi, “The Blacklist”), an Iraqi War veteran whose PTSD is linked to a brain injury sustained while deployed. Bo is mostly non-verbal and often disconnected, and living a tough life with the homeless on Skid Row. Alicia is devoted to her father, and worships him as the man who told her bedtime stories when she was young. Those memories not only inspire her to take care of him now, but also to write her own award winning short stories, and to view her life as a sort of Fairy Tale (rather than a tragedy).
We learn that Alicia has already been in three foster homes, including one with her mean-spirited aunt (Tabitha Brown), who likely took her in only for the money. Social Worker Magdalene (Ana Ortiz, “Ugly Betty”) shows true compassion for Alicia, and understands the love she has for her father. Of course Magdalene is also pragmatic and does her best to find a stable environment for Alicia. That’s where writer John Austin (Martin Sheen) comes in. He and his wife agree to take in Alicia, despite this putting her a 10 hour drive from Bo. But distance can’t hold her back.
Following Alicia around is exhausting, yet fascinating. Director Carlson and cinematographer Maz Makhani do a terrific job of capturing her various adventures – each with the purpose of being with her father. Alicia understands, and we see evidence, of Bo’s unpredictability and propensity for violent outbursts. Oh, but in those few fleeting moments when the father she remembers reappears, it’s emotional and heart-warming. Alicia has a wonderful line that will surely touch viewers. She says, “I love it when you come back to me.” And so do we … the world seems right, even if it’s only a blink.
This performance should elevate Tayler Buck amongst young actors, and we will likely be seeing her quite often over the next few years. And as strong as she is here, we shouldn’t overlook the work of Edi Gathegi and Ana Ortiz, or even Martin Sheen (now 80 years old), who always seems a natural for movies with a message. Jessica Childress sings a beautiful song, “Walk with Me”, that is the exact fit for this film that puts love and hope amidst misery and hopelessness.