Directed by: Nadine Crocker
With: Nadine Crocker, Shiloh Fernandez, Lio Tipton, Emily Deschanel, Dale Dickey, Kat Foster, Anthony Caravella
There is a very persuasive and pervasive undercurrent of emotional honesty that underlies and anchors Continue, a deeply felt indie drama about a young woman’s struggles with crippling depression and suicidal thoughts. Based on the multi-hyphenate Nadine Crocker’s real-life mental health issues, the film is a highly personal work that rather successfully blends DIY, low-budget cinema, and business card with what one might consider as advocacy cinema.
Continue, fresh from a spotlight presentation at Cinequest 2022, opens with a trashed Dean (Crocker) in the midst of a terrible depressive episode, in which she tries to kill herself. Her boyfriend Jackson (Anthony Caravella, also a producer and Crocker’s real-life husband) finds her and sends her to an ambulance. After more than 40 stitches, Dean is placed in a protective care facility, where she meets and bonds with Bria (credited here onscreen as Analeigh Tipton, but as Tio Tipton in press materials), a young woman struggling with drug addiction. An emotional visit with Dean’s sister, Bennett (Kat Foster), sheds more light on some of their shared mental health issues and dark family history.
When she walks out of the institution (which also features a few other recognizable faces, in the form of a nurse played by Dale Dickey and a doctor played by Emily Deschanel), Dean meets Trenton (a gorgeous Shiloh Fernandez), a sensitive young man who at first glance seems good to her, and a grounded presence. The couple share a lot in terms of tragic parental abandonment. Dean’s mother died of a heroin overdose when she was five, and his father committed suicide 10 years ago; Trenton’s father died of lung cancer and his mother chose a life with an abusive new partner over him, leading Trenton to cut him out of his life.
For a while, Dean seems stable and charts an upward path. But seeing his ex-beau Jackson is deeply triggering for Dean, especially when he ignores the damaging aftermath of their relationship and Dean’s inability to come to terms with his attempts to help him. This leads to an immediate relapse, where a drunk Dean attacks Trenton and destroys a room in his house. The question then is what path Dean will chart and whether that will include Trenton, Bria, or any other friends.
Continue bears only a few marks of the stylistic overindulgence that blights so many indie projects – notably in an overly affected opening, which seems to suffer under the weight of a desperate passion to simply lure viewers in and pay them attention. But these and other small intemperances (a lightly padded 115-minute runtime) can be forgiven quite easily, given its maker’s connection to the material – especially when Continue is also based on a solid technical package which contributes to reinforcing its strengths. Cinematographer Sy Turnbull locates a compelling and intimate visual palette, and editor Jing Han (despite a few music video-influenced segments) establishes a nice rhythm between tenderness and immediacy, especially in the scenes with Dean and Trenton.
Even if they are young people, Continue gives off a certain early-evening vibe—of wearily realizing that the whole direction of one’s life is adrift, and that almost all of one’s choices, accumulated and individual, have been poisoned by pain and hurt, and wrongly made. (There’s a nice sequence in which a character sings that “the bottom can be a nice place to start.”)
As a writer, director and star, Crocker (whose other credits include 2016’s cabin fever remake/sequel) has a lot to do. But she attacks the scripted material with an unflinching energy that is painful to watch at times (which of course is part of the point). It would be hard to get close to Dean in real life, but she’s absorbing to watch because of how close she is to being cruel.
The film has a strong sense of the details that linger and matter – Dean recounting the feeling of a wet carpet upon discovering his father’s body, for example – as well as wisely chosen combustible moments, such as Dean exploding from anger again called “strong.” It is this type of carefully observed lived experience that helps to separate and uplift Continue many films that tread the same narrative ground. This and the film’s unvarnished lack of vanity (bluntly speaking, its prominence of faces that have seen shit) are the two pillars upon which its entrenched sense of truth rests.
The list of films dealing with depression, mental health issues and addiction is long and wholesome, no doubt many touchstones and reference points for Crocker in developing his screenplay. But Continue is a film which, on top of that, also takes a substantial look at the partner(s) of a drug addict or mentally ill person. In this respect, it is thematically reminiscent of films like crushed and blue valentine, Memory and When a man loves a woman – films in which addiction and/or self-destructive behaviors are intertwined in examining a relationship that ultimately may or may not be right for the person most plagued by their illness. This specific answer may not always be easy, but, as Continue‘s title suggests, there is a certain way forward.
Written by: Brent Simon