Micah Van Hove’s latest film Shadow of a Gun is a harrowing and meticulous slice of work that closes in on America’s gun culture, but more significantly on its psychological effects. Tom is a firearm hobbyist, responsible and collected. He works part-time at a music store where he’s exceptionally good at. He has a girlfriend (Brett Baxter) and his life seems to be pretty fulfillingly average until his neighbor Jason (Jacob King) stops by after a run. He sees Tom working on a gun and speculates the object’s construction. What at first looks like a BB gun to Jason becomes a growing infatuation with firearms and the power that comes with it. He’s soon very game to building an AR-10 rifle with the help of Tom, forming a peculiar friendship.

In the United States’ current climate, firearms are always on the table of discussion. The spectrum of gun ownership seems to be one extreme to another; those that are sensible enthusiasts who admire the mechanisms of guns and those that use its power as an overt weaponry against society. What the film explores in that respect is the growth of toxic masculinity that may come to wield it, and what that means in contrast to responsible, civil collectors. Have this narrative rested in the midst of a growing friendship between two males and you get the explicitly relevant Shadow of a Gun. Tucked beneath Jason’s privileged, upper-class surface is a manic, discovered person who wants to rattle the world with no regard to consequences. Doing drugs and going to parties in gas masks is only the beginning of his downward spiral. Against Tom’s level-headed character, Jason ventures into grim fascinations of terrorism, hidden from his friend and only manifested in solitude by way of his home vlogs.

Van Hove’s film is a patient wait toward the inevitable. In its climax it still manages to tell more about our antagonist’s pursuits. It’s not always predictable and Van Hove’s script, developed by Jeffrey Reeser, alongside Pino and King, is an electrifying meditation on these social effects. It’s hard to tell how the crystallization of Jason, played exceptionally well by Jacob King, has fully affected the lives of those around him, but the clearcut urgency of his actions are what bring the story full circle and cement its relevance. At a moment’s notice, cause and effect play their hands and take control. This goes for both Jason and Tom, seeing as their sudden camaraderie changes their lives. Tom’s work tardiness begins, his health is at risk, he continues to smoke excessively (among dabbling in drugs with Jason), and his relationship with Alexa suffers a bit. As separate as their lives may be in class scope, this partnership has become the catalyst of decline.

Shadow of a Gun is a distressing call to empathy. One that is nested in self-chaos and unravelment. In our interview with director Micah Van Hove, he expresses one part of the film’s conception as dealing with “young men with problems of identity, not fully understanding where they fit in the world…” It’s within King’s character where we begin to ask ourselves about the polarizing subject matter and how empathy plays its role here, even when it’s juggling Tom’s hobby and how it’s been normalized to masquerade it as evil. Wherever you stand on such issues, Van Hove’s film is enthralling and burning to the mind, one that you’ll want to dissect with others.

Shadow of a Gun is now available to rent or buy here

Directed by: Micah Van Hove

Starring: Dominic Pino, Jacob King, Brett Baxter