"Putty Hill" transcends the usual docudrama hybrid to occupy a thrilling third place, dreamlike and scruffy, opaque and pellucid. It also occupies a very particular geographic location, the outskirts of Baltimore, with their verdant overgrowth and suburban disarray.
It's the place where director Matt Porterfield grew up, and his intimacy with the setting and artist's inquisitiveness about it infuse every frame of the film. Whether in the woods or at a tattoo party, some of cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier's compositions recall Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" in their formal rigor and emotional potency.
As friends and relatives gather for a funeral, little happens in the conventional sense of plot, but whole stories transpire through gestures, glances, silences. In vignettes and in conversations with an off-screen interviewer, they talk about Cory, who died of an overdose, and about themselves.
Answering Porterfield's questions, the ensemble of mostly nonprofessionals — only up-and-coming singer Sky Ferreira gets star billing — blend autobiography and fiction.