Review: ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,’ starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson

June 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (Photo by Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”

Directed by Michael Chaves

Culture Representation: Taking place in Connecticut and Massachusetts in 1981, the horror sequel “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Hispanics) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife, who are well-known demonologists/paranormal investigators, get involved in a murder case to try to prove that the defendant was possessed by an evil spirit when he committed the murder. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of people who are fans of “The Conjuring” franchise, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” will appeal to people who are interested in horror movies that blend the supernatural with real-life legal drama.

Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Vince Pisani, Sarah Catherine Hook and Patrick Wilson in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

How much people might enjoy “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” will depend on how much they can tolerate “The Conjuring” universe taking a “Law & Order”-like turn in this particular sequel. That’s because demonologist/paranormal investigator spouses Ed Warren (played by Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Wilson (played by Vera Farmiga) go beyond the typical haunted house/exorcism storylines of previous “The Conjuring” movies and get involved in a murder case to the point where the Warrens are investigating crime scenes like detectives and giving legal advice like attorneys.

It has the potential to make “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” a convoluted mess. But somehow, it all works out to be a satisfying horror thriller that makes up for its predictability with good performances, some terrifying visual effects and overall suspenseful pacing. The movie also has some unexpected touches of humor and romance that take some of the edge off this grim and gruesome story.

Directed by Michael Chaves and written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (also known as “The Conjuring 3”) is inspired by a true story from the case files of the real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren. The case was about Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who stabbed his 40-year-old landlord to death in Brookfield, Connecticut, in 1981, when Johnson was 19 years old. Johnson admitted to the stabbing but pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

His defense? The devil made him do it. Johnson claimed that during the stabbing, he had been possessed by the devil, which entered his body a few months before, during an exorcism of an 11-year-old boy named David Glatzel, who happened to be the younger brother of Arne’s girlfriend Debbie Glatzel. It was the first known U.S. murder case where demonic possession was used as a defense argument.

In real life, the Warrens got involved in the case because they were at this exorcism that was the catalyst for this tragic turn of events. And the Warrens ended up testifying on behalf of Johnson. (The trial doesn’t happen until toward the end of the movie.)

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” begins with an effectively horrifying re-enactment of the exorcism of David Glatzel (played by Julian Hilliard), which takes place in the movie at the Glatzel home on July 18, 1981. In the movie, David is 8 years old, not 11. Ed and Lorraine Warren are at the exorcism, along with Arne (played by Ruairi O’Connor) and Arne’s live-in girlfriend Debbie (played by Sarah Catherine Hook), who have a very loyal and loving relationship.

Arne and Debbie are both in their late teens and live in another house in Brookfield. Also at the exorcism are David and Debbie’s father Carl Glatzel (played by Paul Wilson); David and Debbie’s mother Judy Glatzel (played by Charlene Amoia); and the Warrens’ videographer/assistant Drew Thomas (played by Shannon Kook), who is filming this exorcism.

When the movie begins, it’s implied that the exorcism has been going on for hours, with David showing ebbs and flows in his demonic possession. At one point, David has reached such a state of exhaustion that Arne takes David up to David’s bedroom to tuck the boy into bed. Arne is depicted as a mild-mannered and polite person.

Arne tells David, “You’re one brave kid. I was a little runt growing up, so I know what it’s like to be picked on, but that was nothing compared to what you’re going through.” David says, “I don’t feel very brave.” Arne replies, “Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you’re scared, but you’re hanging in there. I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

David then says, “Arne when are you going to ask my sister to marry you?” Arne replies with a slightly embarrassed tone, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Despite this friendly banter, there’s a lingering sense of danger in the air. Arne looks outside David’s bedroom window and sees that a priest has arrived by taxi.

The priest is Father Gordon (played by Steve Coulter), who will be the official exorcist for David. Whatever evil spirits are around seem to know that a clergy person is there, because all hell breaks loose soon after the arrival of Father Gordon. David starts attacking like a demon child, beginning with stabbing his father in the leg. He goes through various contortions. And the inside of the house begins to look like a full-force tornado with swirling gusts of evil.

During this chaos, possessed David attacks Ed, who is knocked down on the ground. Arne sees that the demon won’t leave David’s body, so Arne grabs the possessed child and shouts at the demon: “Leave him alone and take me!” And not long after that, David calms down, but Arne won’t be the same. And neither will Ed, because he’s had a heart attack during this exorcism.

It’s a powerful way to begin the movie, which grabs viewers’ attention from this opening sequence and keeps this heightened level of tension throughout the film. David seems to be “cured,” but Arne starts having nightmarish visions. There’s a sinister-looking woman (played by Eugenie Bondurant) who keeps appearing in the visions, with a clear intent to harm Arne. For example, the first time that she attacks Arne, she starts to strangle him, but he’s able to stop it when he comes out of his trance.

At first, Arne doesn’t tell anyone about his visions because he doesn’t want people to think that he’s crazy. But then, things happen to the point where he can no longer keep it a secret that strange things have been happening to him. It’s eventually revealed in the movie who this evil-looking woman is and her ultimate malicious intent.

Ed’s heart attack lands him in a hospital emergency room. He’s eventually released, but he has to use a wheelchair for a good deal of the story. Over time (this movie takes place over a six-month period, from May to November 1981), Ed doesn’t need the wheelchair anymore, but he has to use a cane. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” includes a flashback to May 1981, when the Glatzels moved into the home that appears to be where the family first encountered the demon, which attacked David in a memorable scene involving a water bed.

Meanwhile, Arne and Debbie are trying to get their lives back to normal. Arne works for a tree service company, and Debbie works for Brookfield Boarding Kennels, a pet service company that’s located inside a two-story house. Debbie and Arne live in the house rent-free as part of her job. It’s a house that’s filled with barking dogs kept in cages when they’re inside.

In a conversation that takes place after the exorcism, Arne suggests to Debbie that they move away from Brookfield. He also drops hints that they should eventually get married. Debbie seems reluctant to move away from Brookfield because she and Arne can’t really afford to move yet and she doesn’t want to live too far away from her family. However, she tells Arne that she’ll think about it.

The owner of Brookfield Boarding Kennels is a creepy drunk named Bruno Salz (played by Ronnie Gene Blevins), who has an underpaid Debbie doing most of the work. She’s very responsible and caring in her job, where she’s essentially the manager and bookkeeper for the business. And that’s another reason why Debbie doesn’t really want to move: She’s afraid that the dogs won’t be taken care of very well if flaky Bruno is left in charge of the kennel.

Bruno has been pestering Arne to repair Bruno’s broken stereo in the house’s living room. And one day, when the stereo is repaired, Bruno decides to crank up the music and have an impromptu party with Debbie, Arne and plenty of alcohol. Bruno plays Blondie’s “Call Me” full blast on the stereo and starts dancing with an uncomfortable-looking Debbie. (“Call Me” will be featured in another part of the movie too.)

Suddenly, Arne seems to be losing touch with reality. And this is where he’s supposed to be possessed by the demon. There’s an almost psychedelic nightmare that’s depicted on screen. And by the end, it’s revealed that Bruno was stabbed to death by Arne. (The stabbing is never shown on screen.) The murder in the movie takes place in September 1981, but in real life, the murder happened on February 16, 1981. It was the first murder in Brookfield’s history.

In a daze, Arne walks down a deserted road, with blood on his hands and clothes. A police officer (played by Chris Greene) in a patrol car stops to ask Arne what’s going on. And that’s when Arne says, “I think I hurt someone.” Arne is arrested for Bruno’s murder. And guess who’s coming back to Brookfield to investigate?

Fans of mystery solving will appreciate the added storyline of Ed and Lorraine Warren doing a lot of detective-like investigating, as the Warrens dig deep to find out the origins of this evil spirit that seems to have taken possession of Arne. In the movie, the demon isn’t inside of Arne all of the time. Arne is placed in the psychiatric ward in the local jail, and he’s a fairly passive prisoner most of the time. But there are moments when the demon comes back to haunt and possibly harm Arne.

In the movie, the Warrens are depicted as being the ones to convince Arne’s defense attorney Meryl (played by Ashley LeConte Campbell) to use demonic possession as a defense argument for Arne. It’s an unprecedented legal strategy that Meryl is convinced won’t work, until Ed and Lorraine show the attorney what they found in their demonologist research over the years. Debbie and the rest of the Glatzel family fully believe that Arne was possessed when he killed Bruno, so the Glatzels are supportive of Arne before and during the trial.

The Warrens take it upon themselves to help gather evidence for this case, but they also want to see if they can get rid of this demonic spirit that they believe exists. The Warrens’ investigation leads them to Danvers, Massachusetts, where they find out how the mysterious case of two teenage girls who were best friends is somehow connected to Arne’s case.

The teenagers are named Katie Lincoln (played by Andrea Andrade) and Jessica Louise Strong (played by Ingrid Bisu), who went missing in May 1981. Katie was found murdered, while Jessica is still missing. The Warrens also track down a former priest whose last name is Kastner (played by John Noble), who might have some answers about this particular demon.

Along the way, Ed and Lorraine also get help from a jail priest named Father Newman (played by Vince Pisani) and a police detective in Danvers named Sergeant Clay (played by Keith Arthur Bolden), who is skeptical at first about helping the Warrens. But then, things happen that change Sergeant Clay’s mind. The movie has a few far-fetched things in the story, such as Sergeant Clay being willing to share his case files with Ed and Lorraine, when in reality that’s a serious breach of police protocol.

And some of the horror scenes are over-the-top with visual effects happening in a very “only in a movie” way, instead of depicting what the real exorcisms probably looked like. The amount of body contortions alone would break bones and put someone in a hospital. But elaborate scare spectacles are what people who watch horror movies like this expect to see.

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” delivers in a way that’s effectively chilling but not as disturbing as 1973’s “The Exorcist,” the gold standard for exorcism movies. However, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is a vast improvement over director Chaves’ feature-film directorial debut: the bland 2019 horror flick “The Curse of La Llorona.” Because of Arne’s murder trial, there’s a lot more at stake than the usual attempts to rid a person or a house of an evil spirit.

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is also helped by a suitably convincing production design (by Jennifer Spence), which involves a lot of dusty, dark and unsettling places. And it’s easy to see why the movie changed the seasonal time period to the late summer/early autumn, instead of winter, because cinematographer Michael Burgess effectively uses a lot of autumn-like brown and gold for the exterior shots to contrast with the black and gray of the biggest horror scenes in the film. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” would have looked like a very different movie if it took place in the winter.

Viewers will also see little bit more backstory to Ed and Lorraine’s relationship. In brief romantic flashback scenes, it’s shown how the couple met: Thirty years prior, when Ed and Lorraine were both 17 years old, Lorraine (played by Megan Ashley Brown) went with some friends to a movie theater, where Ed (played by Mitchell Hoog) was working as an usher. It was attraction at first sight, and they began dating shortly afterward.

The movie doesn’t have these scenes as filler. Lorraine is reminiscing about this courtship because of Ed’s near-death scare with his heart attack. It’s caused her to reflect on their longtime relationship. And it’s made the couple appreciate their marriage and partnership even more.

But the movie also has a few touches of comic relief, by showing some of the personal dynamics between this longtime married couple. There are some subtle references to the gender roles that were and still are expected of couples who work together. In “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” Lorraine has to take charge of much of the literal physical legwork in the investigation because of Ed’s recovery from his heart attack.

In a scene where Ed and Lorraine want to investigate a cellar in the Glatzel house, Ed (who is using a cane) realistically won’t be able to crawl around in the cellar. However, Ed tells Lorraine, who tends to dress like a prim and proper schoolteacher: “Honey, let me handle it. You’re going to ruin your dress if you go in there … Be careful.” With an “I can handle it” expression on her face, Lorraine calmly says, “Just hold my purse,” as she hands her purse to Ed. It’s a very realistic and hilarious moment that says it all about how women are often underestimated by men.

The film also shows Ed’s frustration at not being able to physically move around in the way that he’s been used to for all of his life. His anxiety isn’t portrayed in a heavy-handed way, but it’s a nod to the lifestyle adjustments that people who’ve been able-bodied have to go through when they find themselves disabled, even if it’s a temporary disabled condition. Ed does some griping about it, but not in a way that’s too self-pitying.

In a scene where Ed and Lorraine leave a courthouse after a preliminary hearing for Arne, observant viewers will notice that Ed needs to be carried in his wheelchair down the courtroom steps. It’s because the story takes place nine years before the Americans with Disabilities Act made it federal law in 1990 for buildings to provide reasonable access for disabled people. Nowadays, a courtroom building with outdoor steps, such as the building depicted in the movie, is also supposed to have ramps for people who use wheelchairs or walkers.

Since the first “The Conjuring” movie was released in 2013, Farmiga and Wilson have settled into these roles with a charming familiarity. Lorraine is the more level-headed and articulate one in this couple, while Ed (and his East Coast dialect slang) is the more approachable and down-to-earth spouse. Farmiga and Wilson are believable as a couple with a very deep love and respect for each other.

The rest of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles, but the characters that are new to “The Conjuring” franchise for this movie were clearly written as only for this movie. The character of Arne is a little on the generic side, but O’Connor does an admirable job of conveying Arne’s inner turmoil. Bondurant’s role as the mystery woman who’s been plaguing Arne definitely brings a menacing aura to the movie, but she hardly says anything, so her presence is literally more muted than it needs to be.

Make no mistake: Ed and Lorraine Warren are the main characters for viewers to be the most invested in emotionally. In “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” Lorraine’s psychic abilities are a major part of the story. People might have mixed feelings about how these psychic visions are depicted in the movie and how much of this real-life case was embellished into a Hollywood version.

But just like the rest of the story, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” isn’t about trying to explain a lot of things that can’t be explained by scientific facts. Whether or not viewers believe that demonic spirits exist, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” succeeds in providing plenty of memorable horror that makes it a worthy part of “The Conjuring” universe.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on June 4, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 26, 2021.

Review: ‘Uprooting Addiction,’ starring Dr. Gabor Maté, Hope Payson, Daryl McGraw, Rob Funkauser, Kaytlin Coon, Mark Jenkins and Chuck Bascetta

May 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kaytlin Coon (center) and Pete Volkmann (far right) in “Uprooting Addiction” (Photo courtesy of First Run Features)

“Uprooting Addiction”

Directed by Tory Estern Jadow

Culture Representation: Taking place in Connecticut and New York state, the documentary “Uprooting Addiciton” features a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans) discussing how childhood traumas are linked to addictions, specifically drug and alcohol addictions.

Culture Clash: The addiction experts and people in addiction recovery say that addiction treatments are not effective unless these addicts in recovery addresses these traumas.

Culture Audience: “Uprooting Addiction” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries that address addiction issues, but this documentary doesn’t reveal anything new and it’s too unfocused to leave much of an impact.

Mark Jenkins (third from left) and Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Center workers in “Uprooting Addiction” (Photo courtesy of First Run Features)

Even though it has good intentions, the documentary “Uprooting Addiction” takes a simple concept (treating substance addiction requires confronting childhood trauma) and squanders it by veering off-subject too many times. The movie is a little too limited in its scope, because it’s advertised as a documentary about the drug addicition epidemic in the U.S., but “Uprooting Addiction” only covers programs in Connecticut and New York state. “Uprooting Addiction” is only 64 minutes long, but viewers will learn more about addiction and recovery by watching any episode of “Intervention.” (The epilogue and end credits of “Uprooting Addiction” have a song from Darlingside called “Hold Your Head Up High,” which is the type of folksy acoustic guitar music with a male singer that’s very similar to The Davenports song “Five Steps,” which can be heard during the epiologue and end credits for “Intervention.”)

Directed by Tory Estern Jadow, “Uprooting Addiction” has the expected mix of interviews with licensed addiction experts and people in recovery. Some of the experts are also recovering addicts. Unfortunately, there’s nothing new that is said about addiction that hasn’t already been said in a docuseries such as “Intervention” or in other documentary films about people who get treatment for drug addiction.

“Uprooting Addiction” begins with Dr. Gabor Maté, a well-known addiction specialist, making this comment: “All addictions are rooted in trauma. I didn’t say that all traumatized persons will be addicted. But all addicted people are traumatized, whether they realize it or not.” You know what’s coming next: Footage of people in group therapy and in individual interviews telling their sob stories from their childhood.

And that’s expected, because it’s part of this movie’s theme: Addicts can’t fully recover unless they confront and treat any past trauma they’ve experienced in their lives. That trauma almost always goes all the way back to their childhoods. The problem with “Uprooting Addiction” is that it gets distracted from this theme and has footage that really didn’t need to be in the documentary if better editing choices were made.

For example, one of the people interviewed is Mark Jenkins, the founder of the Connecticut non-profit group Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coaltion. Jenkins, who says he’s a recovering addict, describes his job this way: “It is my obligation to reduce the amount of harm [addicts] cause themselves and the community as the result of illicit drug use.” The documentary shows Jenkins and some of the coalition workers putting together Naloxone kits that include narcan (which counteracts the effects of narcotics) and candy.

Later, in the documentary, Jenkins says of Connecticut: “We’re in a state rich in services. But connecting people to those services?” His voice then trails off. This is where the documentary should have actually shown how Jenkins and other people in their group try to connect people with these services. Instead, all viewers get is footage of him and some people sitting at a table and stuffing plastic bags for Naloxone kits. The documentary doesn’t even show where these kits ended up.

A pharmacist named Joe Petricone of Torrington, Connecticut-based Petricone Pharmacy (which has been in his family for generations) says in a documentary interview: “We’re trying hard to get [narcan] into as many hands as possible.” What hands and how? The filmmakers of this documentary couldn’t grasp the concept of “show, don’t tell.”

There’s a lot of people in the documentary talking about what they do for community outreach in fighting addiction, but not enough footage showing them actually doing what they say they do, with real people who need the help. There’s a lot of talk in this documentary about how childhood trauma can lead to addiction. And yet, not once does this documentary show anyone reaching out to at-risk children to try to prevent them from becoming future addicts.

In another part of the documentary, Pete Volkmann, the police chief of Chatham, New York, is interviewed about how the city’s police department handles addiction in the community. Volkmann, who identifies himself as a recovering alcoholic, says the opioid epidemic is Chatham’s biggest problem. He also says that if drug addicts walk into the police station and ask for help, they are immediately treated as sick people, not criminals, and the best effort is made to get them into rehab as soon as possible.

Volkmann also says that he co-founded a Community Angels program of volunteers to help the police department with this responsibility. The volunteers interact with the addicts, who might be leery of dealing with cops, because the volunteers take away what Volkmann calls the “stigma” of being around cops. It’s a very rosy picture of how a police department treats a city’s drug problem.

But then, the documentary does something tacky and questionable by having Volkmann re-enact what it would be like if an addict walked into his office. The re-enactmant has a young man called “Joe” knock on Volkmann’s door, as if anyone can walk into this police chief’s office. The “addict” (who could be real addict or an actor; the documentary doesn’t say) sits down and talks to Volkmann, as if it’s just a friendly neighbor chat.

Kaytlin Coon, who’s identified in the documentary as a recovering addict and one of the city’s Angel volunteers, then simulates talking to this visitor. It’s all very stiff and awkward-looking. This is a documentary, not an acting workshop. And this re-enactment cheapens the movie’s message. Instead of re-eacting this scenario, the filmmakers should have shown a real scenario.

In fact, there’s hardly anything in the documentary that shows any real outreach to addicts who are still in the throes of addiction. Staged-looking group therapy meetings with self-identified “sober” people don’t count, because these are people who’ve already gotten help for their addictions. The documentary includes footage of an International Overdose Awareness Vigil in Torrington, Connecticut. But these types of vigils are more about being memorials to dead addicts and platforms to give speechs, rather than being community outreach events so addicts can get the help that they need.

A recovering addict named Daryl McGraw visits a halfway house/sober living place for men called Friendship House in New London, Connecticut. McGraw, who calls Friendship House his “brainchild,” is shown briefly (about two minutes) giving a friendly pep talk to some of the residents, including a new resident named Benji. The documentary never shows or mentions what happened to any of these residents after McGraw’s visit.

A recovering addict/alcoholic named Chuck Bascetta, who is a recovery sports specialist, is shown briefly interviewing another recovering addict at Community Mental Health Affiliates in New Britain, Connecticut. The interview footage is only about 30 seconds. And it’s not even an in-depth interview because all the questions have “yes” or “no” answers. The addict, who appears to be in his late 50s/early 60s, nods and says “yes” whenever Bascetta asks leading questions about if the addict has been able to stay clean and sober.

Any observant viewer can see that the addict, who is shifty-eyed and looks zonked out on something, isn’t entirely convincing in his claim that he’s clean and sober. And really, unless a drug test is done on the spot, addicts can’t really prove their sobriety when they’re in these counseling sessions. Drug tests aren’t even completely fool-proof, since the test results can be manipulated if someone else’s urine is used.

Maria Coutant Skinner, who is the executive director of the McCall Center for Behavioral Health (a rehab center in Torrington, Connecticut), says in an interview that she co-founded the Lichtfield County Opiate Task Force. But once again, the documentary just shows some people talking in a group, not going out in the community and actually doing the necessary work that a task force is supposed to do. As far as this documentary is concerned, you just mainly need to show people talking in meetings if you’re doing a documentary about treating drug addiction, even though any reasonable person knows that treating drug addiction is more than just talking about it.

Trauma and addiction specialist Hope Payson, who’s also a recovering addict, explains the need to address past trauma in addiction recovery: “If we understand the underlying reasons why someone would seek out dangerous substances to begin with, then we have a possible solution.” Payson mentions that her trauma includes having a brother who died from drug addiction.

The documentary then uses archival footage of Dr. Nadine Burke Harris giving a 2014 TEDMED talk in San Francisco. In the talk, Burke Harris explains the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente. It’s briefly mentioned that 17,000 people participated in the ACE Study “over time,” but the time period is not identified in the documentary. The purpose of the ACE Study is to determine if childhood abuse, neglect and trauma are directly linked to later-life outcomes such as addiction.

This ACE Study is the basis of a group therapy session, led by Payson, that’s shown in the documentary. An illustration of a tree is displayed in the room. At the roots of the tree, the group participants stick pieces of adhesive paper with words describing any childhood trauma they experienced and how it made them feel.

The ACE Study identifies 10 types of childhood trauma that are considered the roots of addiction:

  • emotional/mental abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • lack of emotional support from family members
  • physical neglect
  • a household member addicted to drugs or alcohol
  • a household member with mental illness
  • a household member who’s been incarcerated
  • parental divorce/separation
  • domestic violence against a parent/guardian

These 10 types of childhood trauma determine a person’s ACE Score. Each type of trauma is given a “1” score if someone experienced that trauma before reaching the age of 18. Those who endorse the ACE Study believe that the higher the ACE score, the more likely someone will become an addict. In the documentary, this unsourced statistic is shown: “Individuals with an ACE score of 4 or more are 10 times more likely to become IV drug users than someone with a score of zero.”

The problem with this statistic, because it’s unsourced, is that viewers have no idea what group of people were tested, how many were tested, and for how long, in order to come to this conclusion. In fact, all of the statistics in the documentary are unsourced, which lowers this documentary’s credibility. A lot of this documentary looks very amateurish in all aspects of production and post-production. The cinematography has some shaky camera work and random zooms in and out, as if someone is still fiddling around with the camera and figuring out how to use it.

And the editing is muddled with unnecessary and off-topic distractions. There’s a segment where McGraw, who’s an ex-con, is shown giving a speech to a group of people affiliated with the Bridgeport, Connecticut-based non-profit group Bridge House, which counsels adults with mental illnesses. In the speech, McGraw talks about a job interview experience he had after he got out of prison. It’s an interesting anecdote, but it doesn’t really belong in this documentary. If this documentary was about life after prison, then this segment would have worked better.

Coon is shown interviewed with her mother Donna, who talks about her bipolar son Jordan, who died of a drug overdose. Donna says, “He was a a sweet kid. He self-medicated … I feel guilty because I used to think life would be so much easier without him. It’s not.”

It’s a tragic family story, but it offers no reflection on what the family learned from this experience that could help other families going through the same things. Coon talks about how Jordan used to physically abuse her when they were kids, but that’s about the extent of what she reveals of any past trauma from her childhood.

Other recovering addicts interviewed in the documentary include Rob Funkhauser, an opioid addict who says that he was sexually abused as a child and had an alcoholic mother and an emotionally abusive father. Kelvin Young, an ex-con, talks about his childhood feeling like an inadequate misfit in a strict and religious household, where he says that his parents paid more attention to his older brothers who had more achievements.

McGraw, whose father abandoned the family, says that he witnessed and experienced a lot of violence inside and outside his single-parent household. Bascetta, who was the eighth of 10 kids in his family, says that his childhood was chaotic, and he experienced sexual abuse. Ryan Bailey, a recovering heroin addict, describes his childhood as bouncing around from relative to relative and having a mentally ill, drug-addicted mother who made him feel unloved because she gave him up to be raised by other people.

Epilogues at the end of “Uprooting Addiction” mention the ACE scores and therapy used by the documentary’s featured recovering addicts. On a scale of 1 to 10, Coon’s ACE score was 3; Bascetta and Funkhauser scored 4 on their ACE scores; Young and McGraw scored 5; and Bailey scored 9. All of the addicts have a recovery process that includes some type of group therapy.

The documentary mentions Eye Movement Desensitizaton and Reprocessing (EDMR) therapy, which uses eye movements to overcome trauma and anxiety. Bascetta is a big advocate of EDMR therapy, which he credits with getting rid of his cravings for drugs. Unfortunately for this documentary, the EDMR therapy is one of many examples of things that people talk about but the documentary doesn’t show. It wouldn’t have been that hard for the documentary to show actual EDMR therapy sessions and have willing volunteers track and report how the therapy worked for them.

“Uprooting Addiction” gives minimal mention of America’s racial disparities on which addicts get access to the best treatment and are less likely to be sentenced to prison for drug posesssion. That mention is literally reduced to a soundbite. Jenkins comments on the opioid epidemic: “This didn’t become an epidemic until white people started dying.”

A good documentary would have further explored those issues, but “Uprooting Addiction” doesn’t. However, observant viewers will notice that the two African American addicts from the group sessions who are interviewed (Young and McGraw) both spent time in prison, which they talk about in the documentary. Meanwhile, Funkhauser (who is white) practically brags that he never had a problem getting doctors to write any illegal prescriptions for him, as long has he looked like a businessman. The white drug addicts in the documentary do not talk about being in prison, because they give the impression they never went to prison as a result of their drug addiction.

The filmmakers obviously never bothered to ask Young and McGraw to comment on how their race might have affected how their drug addiction was treated by “the system.” While Chatham Police Chief Volkmann talks about being a police chief who’s willing to help drug addicts go to rehab instead of prison, what the “Uprooting Addiction” documentary doesn’t mention is that Chatham has a population that is 90% white, according to Data USA. Talk to any police chief in a U.S. city with a population that’s more than 30% black or Latino, and it’s highly unlkely that the police chiefs would be so accommodating and friendly to drug addicts in those cities. The statistics for drug arrests in those cities say a lot.

And that’s one of the biggest flaws of “Uprooting Addiction.” It’s a very superficial documentary that barely scratches the surface of the real problems of treating drug addiction. Talking about your childhood in group therapy sessions is one thing. But that doesn’t help all the addicts who can’t even get access to rehab or therapy in the first place, because they’re not in the right income bracket or because they’re a certain race and therefore are more likely to be incarcerated for having a drug addiction. And because “Uprooting Addiction” limits its focus to just two states to talk about a nationwide epidemic, this myopia is just one of many of this film’s credbility problems.

First Run Features released “Uprooting Addiction” on digital and VOD on April 6, 2021.

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