Set in a small coal-mining town in the hills of West Virginia, Little Accidents revolves around two incidents, neither of which is little. The first provides the engine of the plot: an accidental death that is covered up. The second: gross negligence that cost ten coal miners their lives. We all make mistakes, but some mistakes cause repercussions that shape and shadow a community for years to come.

Little Accidents, which played at this past year’s Starz Denver Film Festival, opens Friday, Jan. 16 at the Sie Film Center for a limited engagement. Little Accidents is not your typical January release—a month known commonly as “Hollywood’s dumping ground”—nor is it a typical award season candidate, even though it is nominated for a Spirit Award (Best First Screenplay), Little Accidents is a moody, bleak look at a world clouded by the dust of aftermath. Coal mining was and is a way of life for these people. And every person in this town is connected in some way to this accident. They all move forward in their own way, but they do so with a pall and a resignation that none of them will come out of this alive.

There is Owen (Jacob Lofland), a high school student who lost his father in the cave-in: Owen has taken on the responsibility of his brother with Down syndrome (Beau Wright) while his mother (Chloë Sevigny) tries to put food on the table. Owen tries to lead a normal life, playing video games, swiping beer, and trying to get in with the cool kids, led by JT (Travis Tope), but it doesn’t work out quite like Owen would hope.

JT’s father, Bill (Josh Lucas), is a middle manager at the coal mine where the cave-in occurred, and he might be on the hook for more than he bargained for. His wife, Diane (Elizabeth Banks), drinks too much, takes too many pills, and has drifted from Bill to the open, yet damaged, arms of Amos (Boyd Holbrook), the sole survivor of the cave-in and the key testimonial witness to the on-going investigation. It may not be a small world, but it certainly is a small town.

Written and directed by Sara Colangelo, Little Accidents is not a light or happy movie. It is a dark and dusty thing—beautifully shot by Rachel Morrison—one that leaves a little grit in your teeth and a lot of rhetorical questions in your mind.

There are many conflicts in Little Accidents, but the one that permeates every scene is the crushing cost of capitalism. Poor choices have been made in the interest of money, and poor choices will continue to be made in the interest of money, and the cycle will remain unbroken. There is a moment in the end that alludes to catharsis, but the cold reality of this town is that they will forget. The dirt will be swept under the rug. The miners will return to the mine. The managers will cut corners and lower costs in the interest of higher profits, and someday, all of those little accidents will once again add up into something quite big.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Little Accidents (2014)
Written and directed by Sara Colangelo
Produced by Jason Michael Berman, Anne Carey, Thomas B. Fore, Summer Shelton
Starring: Jacob Lofland, Beau Wright, Chloë Sevigny, Travis Tope, Josh Lucas, Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook
Amplify, Not rated, Running time 105 minutes, Premiered Jan. 22, 2014, at the Sundance Film Festival

A version of the above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 22, No. 24, “When the good comes undone.”