Cult American author JT Leroy has attracted some influential celeb fans – Madonna, Liv Tyler and Italian actress-filmmaker (and daughter of horror director Dario) Argento among them – so it’s no great surprise that this adaptation of Leroy’s brutal, brittle childhood memoir has pulled into town replete with cameos from Winona Ryder, Peter Fonda and Marilyn Manson. Argento shows events largely from the perspective of seven-year-old Jeremiah as he’s dragged around some of the South’s less salubrious spots – truck stops, trailer parks, strip joints – by his junky-hooker mother Sarah (Argento) and suffers druggings, beatings, sexual abuse and religious indoctrination by his fundamentalist Christian grandfather (Fonda). It’s a dark, druggy, often delirious slice of American gothic, made all the more disorientating by bright Southern sunshine, some nightmarish stop-motion animation (including a couple of birds with crimson plumage) and Marco Castoldi and Sonic Youth’s industrial soundtrack banally heralding every moment of anguish and violence. But it’s the flimsy characterisation that really lets this down. Sarah is never more than a selfish, white-trash harridan while the tortured, angelic, blond Jeremiah is too much the passive innocent, like some kind of filmic voodoo doll of Leroy, and doesn’t convince when he turns manipulator later on. This could have been a poignant tale of parental dysfunction – the corrupted love that links mother and son should have proved an especially heartrending seam to mine – but its bag of expressionist tricks is incapable of digging down to the required emotional depths.