This is one I hope finds more of an audience over time. It was very well reviewed but had a microscopic box-office take. I think it's a better film than some other intimate dramas of 2019 that had a similar critic/audience trajectory.
It is an ambitious movie and an unusual one in style and structure. The song that plays over the closing credits is called "Sound & Color," and that could be an alternate title for the film, which is aesthetically beautiful apart from everything else. Shults's camera is very restless, often revolving 360 degrees to take in a scene, like the beam of a lighthouse. The use of music is nearly symphonic in its continuity, between the electronic score by Reznor and Ross (of The Social Network) and a boatload of popular songs, from Dinah Washington to Animal Collective, many of them used diegetically on car radios or at parties. The carefully plotted moments of stillness and silence thus stand out starkly.
The script throws a lot of heavy issues at the viewer: domestic violence, grave sports injuries, toxic masculinity, prescription drug abuse, teenage drinking, unplanned pregnancy and reproductive rights, harsh sentencing for African-Americans, online bullying, marital discord, terminal illness, grief. Even for a 135-minute film, it's a very full plate. The interesting thing about it is that it doesn't push for emotional catharsis. It's a well-worked-out script that is directed with a certain observant distance. I could imagine someone else finding it too cool or detached, but I actually appreciated that it was just showing me, in a plausible way, a string of misfortunes and bad decisions that culminate in a tragedy, and then a recovery that is equally plausible, not all better but life going on. There is grist for two or three melodramas here, but the director and actors aren't exhorting us to cry.
There is wonderful work from the whole ensemble, with special praise for Russell, luminous as the family's quiet daughter, who takes over the film halfway through and brings it and herself back to life, and Brown as the loving but overwhelming father. In his early scenes as the daughter's new love interest, Hedges nails a particular kind of naturally sweet person who, attempting to make the best possible impression on someone new, almost overshoots the mark.