Dichotomies of light and shadow, claustrophobic closeness, and expansive framing create the steady unease of the visual style of Burning Cane, the auspicious debut of 19-year-old director, writer, and cinematographer Phillip Youmans. Youmans, who was 17 while making the film, presents not only an advanced visual language and style for his age but a striking emotional nuance in the portrayal of his characters, who are trapped by the legacy and perpetuation of the dual cycles of violence and addiction. Set in an African American community in rural Louisiana, Youmans’s film is centered on the life of the aging Helen (Karen Kaia Livers), a woman who has suffered the loss of a husband and a son. She pivots between the looming darkness of the tribulations of her family life—including the substance abuse and violent temperament of her remaining son, Daniel (Dominique McClellan)—and the sharp vicissitudes of the widower head of her local church congregation, Reverend Joseph Tillman (Wendell Price). Tillman, longing for the past and unable to come to terms with the modern views of his flock, battles alcoholism while overseeing a withering congregation, and in a moment of fleeting disclosure reveals a shocking act of violence that haunts his past. The enduring legacy of slavery—and the violence, poverty, and social disintegration it wrought—is an ever-present darkness in Youmans’s impressive first effort, a film that lingers on an emotionally devastating act of love and sacrifice.