Starting with an audience surrogate of sorts, a group of nervous college kids head to the Bluff (a crime ridden area in Atlanta) in hopes of scoring some drugs. The male in charge shotgun tapes the entire experience, likely to show to his buddies the “insane shit” they had done that day. Well, he gets more than what he bargains for once he meets the dealer Snow -- after encouraging them to taxi him to his home, he brandishes a gun and the camera abruptly shuts off. When it resumes filming the Bluffian passes it off to a friend, situating himself in front of the camera to detail his various exploits. From then on the movie operates in cinéma vérité style (with only a few passing acknowledgements to the presence of the camera), legitimately feeling like an amateur shooting his pals as opposed to an experienced cinematographer faking it.
While there is very little narrative to cling to, you won’t care -- most of the interest is experiencing the undiluted way of living with someone very nestled into the lifestyle. It’s nice to see the residents of the neighborhood with a non-judgmental eye, outside of the usual exploitative television program or issues doc. Our protagonist, talking a mile a minute, is a fascinating personality: we’re with him as he throws parties, slings drugs, visits his baby and “baby momma,” and engages in drug-related robberies. He’s more or less the king of the hill, and it’s only a matter of time before someone attempts to dethrone him -- after a few compassionate sequences involving a tour of make-shift monuments to the deceased and a visit to his grandmother’s house (where she suggests he get a good job), the subject gets shot off-camera by an unknown party. The police get involved and manage to arrest him on some vague charges, and the film picks up some time later after a brief stint in prison. Following the reunion festivities, Snow wastes no time in vocalizing his vengeful appetite, ignoring the fact that it’s probably a bad idea considering he just got out of jail. Still, a move needs to be made and he quickly organizes a drive-by, thus setting into motion a nasty tug of war with severe consequences.
Given the style and the bookend framing device, there’s an obvious “found-footage” conceit going on that’s fooled quite a few people -- apparently, there were riots at the Atlanta Film Festival and Atlanta Police contacted the filmmakers because of the home invasions -- but honestly, it’s not too hard to tell that it’s a fictional narrative with enough collaboration and realism to make it feel true. However, given the strength of the filmmaking and its use of real locations and people, you’re not likely to care one way or the other. There’s a furious, untamed energy pulsating through the movie, and that’s part of what makes it such a joy to watch despite some of the more disturbing moments. The more sensitive audience members might not be able to take things like the bizarre car ride where women freely strip, nor will they stomach a child wandering amidst a table full of crack cocaine. But these are some of the realities of the culture shown with a resolute eye: it’s not meant to look cool, nor is it berating. It presents this world as it is, and leaves it for the viewer to mark with their own eye.
And with that train of thought, it’s a relief that the filmmaker doesn’t tack on a schmaltzy moral at the end of the story and though the finale is a bit brief and disappointing, it offers some optimism in an interesting way. The film retains its lyrical rawness, feeling like the next step in neo-realism. Immediate and unrelenting, “Snow On Tha Bluff” is unlike anything you’ll see this year... unless, of course, you live in the Bluff. [A-]