The Group had its world première at FrightFest 2022
Drug dependency is a problem not just because of the addiction itself, but because of the pre-existing trauma and dysfunction that so often lead to the addiction in the first place, and also the way that addicts negatively affect not just themselves but others while seeking their next fix. So in setting his feature debut The Group in a community centre for a twelve-step programme meeting, writer/director Will Higo immediately establishes all his key themes: damage, shame, guilt, and the desire to be redeemed from an unsavoury, destructive past.
When Kara (Evangelina Burton) returns to Addicts Anonymous Together for the first time in six months, she is coming straight out of hospital having relapsed and overdosed, with her gaunt demeanour and scarred wrists making her a (barely) living exemplar of addiction’s wages. Kara still has fight in her, though – and even coming to the group is the first step to recovery.
Before all that, however, Kara must admit to and work through her various issues. So she joins the circle with fellow addicts Seth (Luke Dayhill), Henry (Tom Coulston), Charley (Jennifer Aries), Eddy (Nobuse ‘Jnr’ Uwaifo) and Dave (Mike Nelson), all under the guidance of counsellor Ellen (Alicia Novak) whose mantra is, “We’re not here to sit in judgment.” Kara, though, is her own worst critic. “Maybe I deserve to be judged,” she tells Ellen, “You ever thought about that? Maybe there’s no coming back from what I did.” Before she can elaborate, the group is joined by a new member, Jack (Dylan Baldwin), who is about to visit upon everyone an extreme form of intervention, arrogating to himself all at once the rôles of judge, jury and executioner while refusing to countenance the acceptance (and self-acceptance) that is the group’s aim.
In other words, The Group merges the ‘one day at a time’ ethos of group therapy with the life-or-death frissons of a survival thriller, as the armed and angry Jack serves to amplify this ensemble’s confrontation with who they are and what they have done. Even as Kara and her fellow addicts have all hit rock bottom and are struggling their way back up, Jack is blinded by his aggressive moral righteousness from being able to see himself as part of the problem, in a film where everything goes back to daddy. It is an intense closed-room drama, where all the contradictions of breaking good – of transitioning from a bad place to somewhere better without forgetting where you have come from and how you got there – play out bleakly amidst violent recriminations and self-loathing.
strap: In debuting writer/director Will Higo’s therapeutic survival thriller, recovering addicts violently confront their pasts
© Anton Bitel