Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

Louis Theroux is back with the upsetting Heroin Town

Rebounding from the rather disappointing feature film My Scientology Movie, Louis Theroux is back on the BBC with Heroin Town, an upsetting and brutally frank documentary about Huntington, West Virginia, a town ravaged by drug addiction. While it doesn’t offer the jaw-dropping idiocy of America’s Most Hated Family or the emotional journey of Drinking to Oblivion, it’s yet another beautifully-observed descent into hell from one of our greatest living documentarians.

Heroin Town 1

Though heroin is a topic that’s been explored endlessly in film and television, Theroux narrows his focus to this one town which has seen so many people hooked on opioids and narcotics. Along the way, he meets characters with their on insight into addiction, like Katillia, who stays with her abusive boyfriend because he’s her main supplier, or Mickey and Allisha, whose newborn son needs to be weaned off methamphetamine. Though there are some hopeful stories, like Mickey , an ex-user who believes he’s found peace of mind, Heroin Town suggests the problem will keep occurring as long as the town’s doctors and pharmaceutical reps continue to recommend stronger and stronger painkillers. Sadly, there are no easy answers for a city in which 25% of citizens are addicted to opiates.

For the last fifteen years, Theroux has been moving further and further away from the wacky stories and characters he met during Weird Weekends. Many of his BBC documentaries still had a wry smile and a cheeky sense of humour (such as Theroux’s bemused approach to religious bigots or extreme pets), but as the stories have grown more serious, Theroux has matured as a documentary maker, refusing to patronise or mollycoddle his often-troubled subjects. Last year’s Drinking to Oblivion and Saville were both disturbing, focusing on binge drinking and Theroux’s own approach to Jimmy Saville years before his crimes were discovered. Heroin Town is another documentary played totally straight, and apart from a few amusingly dry exchanges (“Have you ever sucked a dick to get high?” asks Louis, quite earnestly), this is one of the darker documentaries Theroux has made.

Perhaps a little too unpleasant to rank as one of his finest documentaries, Louis Theroux’s Heroin Town is still another humane,  worrying exploration of a side of America rarely seen in film and television. As always, there are a parade of likable subjects, but there’s little in the way of humour or hope to be found here. Huntington is a city devastated by drugs, and it seems there’s no way out for its tragic addicts. Heroin Town is often a difficult watch, but it’s almost impossible to look away.

Grade: B+

By Harry J. Ford

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