Jersey Shore may be the hyped example of trashy onscreen “reality,” but this portrait of an upstate working-poor family forsakes guilty-pleasure exploitation and simply wows you in every other way. Photo-essayist Donal Mosher builds upon his earlier work documenting his Mohawk Valley relatives, this time creating a 21st-century American Gothic spanning four eras and a host of social ills: unemployment and juvenile crime, domestic and sexual abuse, abortion and postwar trauma. Private fascinations with death and violence—and family dysfunctions passed between generations—are interwoven into a TV season’s worth of complex incident.
After a mere 80 minutes, you’re left wanting more—not just of a you-couldn’t-make-this-up ensemble that includes a Vietnam vet, his Wiccan sister, two single moms and a shoplifting foster child—but of a recession-era America brought to vivid life by Mosher and his collaborator, music-video director Michael Palmieri. October Country’s crisp, impressionistic visuals endow its small-town landscape with an otherworldly beauty, whether it’s the passing of seasons or the endless aisles of Wal-Mart. Intimate yet larger-than-life, this masterpiece of the everyday shows you don’t need James Cameron’s toy box to make images pop from the screen, much less to see and embrace the world anew.