Set in an Arkansas town where even the idea of the American dream is a joke, 'Shotgun Stories' tells of a deadly local row between the two halves of the Hayes family. On one side, is the neglected 'first family' of three brothers, Son, Boy and Kid (Shannon, Ligon and Jacobs).

We learn that their alcoholic father left this branch of the Hayes family when they were children, apparently before even giving them real names, and that they harbour a deep bitterness towards him, and a jealousy for the clean and successful second life he began.

Part of that second life is a 'second family'; four brothers who appear better off and better educated than the ones left behind. On hearing of their father’s death, Son leads his brothers to the funeral and infuriates his grieving half-brothers by spitting on the coffin.

That initiates a cycle of strike and counter-strike between the two families that takes on a life of its own. It’s not an uncommon theme, but part of what makes this film so successful is how it handles the violence. Rather than being portrayed as unusual, it is stitched seamlessly into the fabric of life, somehow seeming shocking but also everyday. Two slightly dysfunctional but fairly unremarkable families are transformed in a matter of days, and the achievement of this film is to show us the truth of why and how.

An interesting sub-theme is the film's mapping of the feel and dynamics of the American sub-economy - a 'second world' - in which many of the characters exist. There’s a bartering vibe to some of the exchanges and while Son's house is nicely turned out with a big TV, it exists in a world of dilapidation and economic deprivation. It's a different America to the one we often see.

Some have tagged this as stereotypical American Indie, but it’s far from it. In fact, it's an excellent film, with shades of Steinbeck and a classic, almost Biblical feel. There is hardly a superfluous word or scene, and each performance - particularly those of Shannon, Ligon and Jacobs - is measured to perfection. 

Highly recommended.

Brendan Cole