In the first of a three-part documentary series looking at the darker underside of American society Louis Theroux tackles heroin addiction in Huntington, West Virginia. it is a city plagued by addiction where ¼ of the population are addicts, . Showing people stuck, almost hopelessly, in a cycle of addiction spanning from birth to death caused originally by easy access to prescription opiates.
The subject is addressed with care and sensitivity we’ve come to expect from Theroux and it’s since sense of compassion and lack of judgement that puts his interviewees at ease.
This is something Louis has continued to achieve he acts as our charismatic and quirky guide into the strange worlds of everything from celebrity to cults. Though his subjects in recent years have developed into more painfully real and sobering looks at people going through times of struggle, which is very much present in this film.
This is an incredibly honest and tender look at the lives of both the addicts and their loved ones that holds a simplicity in both its storytelling and its camera work that allows us to forget there is a film crew present, and focus only on the stories being told.
“They shut the door and walked away” says the opening subject of the film about her doctor once they learned of her addiction to her prescription medication. This is not an unusual story of people being let down by those who should be helping them, especially in these ex-industrial states, as Louis aims to make clear with this film.
We follow several stories of addicts who became victim to prescription drug abuse that lead to an eventual heroin addiction. One of whom is Katilya. We see her give a hushed confession of her boyfriend, Alvin’s abuse and control of her through her addiction, truly showing us the destructive nature of drug abuse. With Louis poignantly narrating; “15 years of using had left its mark on who she was and what she thought she deserved”
While the documentary is ultimately about the destructive nature of drug use it’s also about the aftershocks of an industrial town in decline combined with easy over the counter opiate access. As ‘Petty Betty’ or Jessica tells us how she had abused prescription drugs taken from her grandparents’ medicine cabinet from age 12 before moving onto heroin.
We follow emergency services for brief periods of the film seeing brutal images of overdoses, that I feel could have been addressed more within the film rather than the fleeting images of anguish we do see not getting the same amount of time and care spent on them as the people Louis interviews personally
In the end, we meet baby Fletcher and his mother who is fighting her addiction in order to lead a better life for her son. Despite being born addicted, we see a new resident of Huntington who may not be again caught in a cycle of drug abuse. Which despite the harsh reality we are confronted with in the rest of the film, the end comes with a feeling of hope.
Contributed by Esme Elen Lloyd Taylor
Louis Theroux’s Dark States Continues Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC Two.