White Lightnin’ Review: Trailer Trasher Slasher
In possibly one of the strangest films of the year, White Lightnin’ tells the semi-fictionalised story of The Dancing Outlaw, Jesco White, a wild and unpredictable man raised in rural Appalachia as he tries to follow in his famous father’s step-dancing footsteps.
He’s dogged along the way by his hair-trigger temper, mental instability and a penchant for various illegal chemicals.
His fractured sanity is further damaged by the murder of his father, the one person who seemed to offer any guidance in Jesco’s life, which leads him from mental institute, to prison, to outright insanity.
Eventually he experiences a kind of religious epiphany, believing himself to be a force for divine retribution and sets about hunting down his father’s murderers. But even after he’s done all this, the film takes a swirling turn even further as Jesco holes himself up in an abandoned cabin in the woods, atoning for his perceived sins by trials of fire and self-mutilation.
It’s all set with a background of true trailer-trash exploitation – all rusted-out trailer parks and moonshine-swigging hillbillies. Tempered with an appropriately traditional soundtrack – knee slapping, banjo-strumming yeehaw – it sets the tone perfectly for the film – raw, uncompromising and close to the bone. There’s more than a whiff of Deliverance about the film, something menacing barely concealed by its rural communities.
Edward Hogg does a fantastic job as Jesco White – his calm placidity and wide child-like eyes make his transformation into evil-tempered rangy psychopath even more frightening and disturbing. It’s being touted as a slasher movie but to simply leave it at that would be doing it an injustice. It’s fundamentally a film about addiction and redemption; Jesco wrestling with the escapism that narcotic oblivion provides and the desire to do right by his wife and earn a living.
Carrie Fisher is initially a surprising choice as Jesco’s long suffering wife (with nary a headphone hairstyle in sight) but she pulls it off admirably, balancing a love for her husband with a feverish fear of what mood he might stumble into next.
It’s not an easy film to watch, lurching as it does between childhood memories of huffing petrol to a whirlwind of vicious and bloody violence. It’s also not clear how much is truth and how much is fiction; the real Jesco is alive and well in West Virginia, the fictionalised one a bloody mess in a rural hunting cabin.
Is this a study of insanity and religious salvation or an exploitative excuse to gawk at the worst of hillbilly stereotypes? Whatever the answer, it’s certainly a film that revels in its unconventional originality and one that will at least make you squeal like a pig.