A foul, jarring, but effective little film, Stinking Heaven shoves our faces into the very toe jam of addicts struggling to achieve sobriety. Set in the 1990s and shot on some sort of Betamaxy videotape to give it that authentic, grimy ’90s feel, the film depicts daily life in a suburban New Jersey commune catering to users of all ages trying to find a reason to live that doesn’t involve getting hopelessly high.

The style is typical of most contemporary and earnest microbudget fare—artlessness masquerading as art, authenticity in place of artfulness, honesty in place of having something explicit to say. It’s the art of tearing your chest open and showing your beating heart, slitting your wrists, and calling it brave and important. But shoving ugliness in viewers’ faces is instead here disorienting and exasperating.

There’s no setup, character-building dialogue, or anything else to ease viewers into the narrative, or the lack thereof. To show off the film’s gritty realism, director Nathan Silver shoves us right into these ugly peoples’ armpits, as if to say, here, look at it, smell it, taste it, this is real. Yes, the ugliness is real, but why should we care?

Good luck keeping track of which character is which—we aren’t really introduced to them in any coherent way, and we don’t really know what they want or anything about them other than that they have poor hygiene. They all seem to be competing in a game of who can be the most unappealing, and it’s a stiff competition.

The plot, such as it is, kicks in when Ann (Hannah Gross) enters the commune. Ann was evidently the lover of someone there, a woman who is involved in some pathetic marriage-as-therapy gambit with a hopelessly crusty dude in the commune who is at least a couple decades her senior. Ann has a bad attitude and causes people to freak out because she’s a hellcat. She also has a dead-on early ’90s vibe to her—physically, she’s a ringer for Julie from the first season of the Real World.

Reasons to see this are the retro Betamaxiness of it all, the general ’90s nostalgia, Hannah Gross channeling Julie, and the fact that it’s only 70 minutes.

Directed by Nathan Silver
Written by Silver and Jack Dunphy
Released by Factory 25
USA. 70. Not rated
With Deragh Campbell, Hannah Gross, Henri Douvry, Keith Poulson, Eléonore Hendricks, Tallie Medel, Jason Giampietro, Jason Grisell, Eileen Kearny, and Eleanore Pienta