Austin Film Festival Review: Ben Is Back

Family drama captures the haunting power of addiction

Ben (Lucas Hedges) is 19 years old and 77 days sober (which is actually kind of fresh) when he shows up at home unannounced on Christmas Eve.

After a string of establishing shots of the snow-draped town, Ben is pictured rummaging around the backyard, hoodie on, vape in hand, like some kind of burglar – and he is a burglar of sorts, breaking open old wounds and stirring up his family’s (not unearned) mistrust. His mother Holly (Julia Roberts) gives him 24 hours, but she’s on him like a parole officer the whole time. It doesn’t take long for Ben’s past and former misdeeds to gurgle up like so much black bile.

The second half of the film is more suspenseful than one might expect from a “family drama” – it’s darkly comedic at times, has elements of a thriller and maybe even horror, with a house haunted by triggers and the reanimation of ghosts (though strictly in a metaphorical sense).

Writer/director Peter Hedges (scripter for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, director of Dan in Real Life, and father of Lucas) takes care with the subject of opioid addiction, placing blame where it is due without being heavy handed, casting the addict in a kind yet realistic light.

Ben Is Back opens on Dec. 7.

Austin Film Festival runs Oct. 25 - Nov. 1. Tickets and info at

Find more of our AFF coverage, including news, reviews, and interviews, at

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Austin Film Festival 2018, AFF 2018, Austin Film Festival, Ben Is Back, Peter Hedges, Lucas Hedges, Julia Roberts

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