We Grew Up Here ★★★★

What do you do when you lose everything? When someone that helped shape you, make you whole, retracts themselves from your life, how do you react? We Grew Up Here attempts to examine that feeling of sheer loss, as we follow Liam, a musician living in Chicago who's struggling with his breakup with Lauren. These aren't your usual breakup woes though. Liam attempts to call Lauren - her number is disconnected. He goes to his camera to watch back videos of them together - they become corrupted and become completely inaccessible. The music they recorded together is gone, an old friend of theirs doesn't recognize him, and even their old hometown of Tanglewood, Kansas, where they grew up and lived together, has seemingly vanished. It's not on any maps, and no one has heard of it. Has Liam gone crazy?

While that description may make the film sound more akin to a dark psychological thriller, it's more about how the mind copes with loss and the visualization of what it's like to attempt to accept the fact that this person who was a huge part of your life is gone. Liam begins a search for Lauren, while keeping a video diary in a desperate attempt to not only get her back, but prove to himself that he's still sane. He convinces himself that just finding their hometown, or just remembering and playing a song they wrote together will thrust her back into his life and all will be well. Yet as the film goes on, the question arises of whether those were in fact memories Liam was remembering, or were they simply dreams? How much of what we saw was real, and how much was in Liam's mind? While this is an idea attempted hundreds of times in movies, it feels fresh and powerful here thanks to the minimal feel of the film, set constantly in small towns and motels, as opposed to big cities, and the superb lead performance by Eric Michaels. Despite Liam's possible delusions, Michaels makes him an easy character to feel sympathetic for. He's natural and genuine, and truly gets across the pain and confusion Liam has to pour out every day.

Director Kevin Pickman directs superbly, always focusing on the emotional state of the characters rather than letting the plot take over and lead the film into generic thriller territory. Liam's state of mind is well highlighted, with lingering wide shots emphasizing his isolation and solitary existence in a world where he can't trust what he's seeing, juxtaposed with the intimate handheld close-ups during flashbacks to he and Lauren's blossoming relationship in the past. The music in the film also deserves a mention. Members from the band Paper Thick Walls star in the film and the musical sequences are possibly the emotional heights of the film, and help establish the unique connection Liam and Lauren had between them.

This is definitely a gem. The film looks better than a lot of releases with a far larger budget do and everyone involved with the production deserves a lot of praise. Hopefully it'll be seen by more people soon enough.