Rating: four stars (4 out of 5)
Director: Louis Theroux (My Scientology Movie)
Starring: Louis Theroux, Katillia Martin.
The more they fix, the more they are broken
Popular British TV investigative journalist Louis Theroux returns to cinemas with Heroin Town, one of the finest efforts of his highly consistent career.
In a bleak, sobering and moving look at the modern drugs crisis, Theroux spends a month in the American town of Huntington, West Virginia.
Due to a perfect storm whipped up by prescription-happy doctors and unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies, Huntington is a place where severe addiction has become both an accepted way of life, and a fast track to tragic death.
The statistics speak for themselves.
The population of Huntington is 50,000. A quarter of its citizens is either addicted to heroin, or a synthetic opiate of equivalent strength. Paramedics and firefighters get 1200 call-outs to overdoses every year. One in ten babies is born an addict, and must be carefully weaned off methadone.
The more people you meet in Huntington, the more they come to resemble living ghosts: able to disappear in plain view as soon as their next fix comes along.
One of the most heartbreaking cases Theroux and his team focus on is Katillia Martin, a 21-year-old heroin addict who has recently ceased working as a prostitute to feed her $300-a-day habit.
She is now living with a local drug dealer who is able to keep her supplied with her needs at a bargain rate.
The trade-off? According to Martin, “it is like he keeps me as a pet”.
Later on, she confides in Theroux that her boyfriend has been getting increasingly violent with her. To his credit, Theroux goes right ahead and confronts Katillia’s abuser on the matter.
Theroux also pays a series of regular visits to a tent city that sits beside a river on the outskirts of Huntington. This is the last refuge of addicts before they totally bottom out. Or die.
Overall, Heroin Town is saddening, maddening stuff, potently personalised by Theroux’s sincere curiosity and empathy for his subjects’ awful plight.
It is worth noting this vital production is preceded by a 35-minute short that details how Theroux and his team go about sourcing, researching and interacting with the subjects of his documentaries.