Netflix’s 6 Balloons review: a brief but unrelenting study in the toll love can take

With a tight 74-minute runtime, Netflix original 6 Balloons is a brief but unrelenting study in the toll love can take on the person closest to an addict.

Based on details true to life for producer Samantha Housman, 6 Balloons follows Katie (Abbi Jacobson) as she drives through the night in search of a detox centre that will admit her brother, Seth (Dave Franco), who has relapsed on heroin. Seth’s four-year-old daughter, Ella, is also along for the ride, witnessing her father confront the horror of withdrawal from her carseat in the back. At every turn, Ella’s presence heightens tension but never manipulates, a careful display of director Marja-Lewis Ryan’s dexterous command.

Caught up in a situation that allows no room for indecision, Katie is forced to choose again and again between the temporary relief of enabling her brother’s habit or the pain and difficulty of facilitating his recovery. In her first dramatic role, Abbi Jacobson depicts the stress and heartbreak of these choices with masterful precision. Dave Franco, similarly new to drama, also folds into his role with unsettling believability.

The film’s momentum recalls the palpable desperation in the Safdie brothers’ Good Time – a pressure that refuses to let up. A structured drowning metaphor rectifies its initial heavy-handedness in the film’s finale, as friendships and familial relationships deftly weave in and out of the immediate orbit of Katie’s car. Setting it apart from a myriad of first-person portraits, 6 Balloons meticulously tells of the terror of responsibility inherent to the codependence of addiction.

6 Balloons is now streaming on Netflix