White Lightnin’ tells the story of Jesco White, ‘The Dancing Outlaw’. Jesco (Edward Hogg) is the last of the Appalachian Mountain dancers. Ever since he was a child who was hooked on huffing gas and lighter fluid, his daddy D Ray (Prison Break’s Muse Watson) tried to keep his boy on the right hand of the Lord. But it didn’t always take. When D Ray is murdered, Jesco is in danger of falling into the darkness. Thankfully he has two calming influences in his life. The traditional dances that his father had taught him as a boy, and his loving wife, Priscilla (Carrie Fisher). They can only soothe his demons for so long though before Jesco spirals out of control and leaves in his wake, one of the darkest rampages you’ll see all year.
As UK director Dominic Murphy portrays Jesco White’s life from an early age he was huffing lighter fluid and dropping in and out of juvenile detention camps. There were also patterns of self abuse and self marking. His father, D Ray White, one of the great Appalachian mountain dancers, teaches him this form of dancing, trying to get him to learn one thing in his life. But Jesco was still rebellious, got into serious drugs, and was sent to the local mental hospital where his violent compulsions kept him there for some time. Jesco’s compulsive behaviour, his outburst of violence; he called it the devil inside him.
Jesco will use this dancing later in life to control his dangerous urges. Travelling from town to town he meets Cilla on a lonely road and she leaves her family to be with him. They set up a trailer on the side of the road and travel together; Jesco’s dancing keeping his demons at bay. But that can only last for so long and again begins Jesco’s descent into madness and fury. We watch him teeter between the good time and the bad times. Dancing through life on a razors edge, sometimes picking up that razor from underneath him and using it to dole out his own way of justice and penance for sins.
We witness a harsh reality of humanity, though played out anywhere in any vein of society it cuts particularly deep in the darkness of the hills in which Jesco lives and the nights on which he danced from town to town. Our own preconception [or is it misconception?] of mountain folks and the lives they lead only make it easier to accept the path that Jesco walks on. Our minds are already made up as the title cards play out on a backdrop of rusted out clunkers, household utilities and clothelines drowned by the sounds of dancing shoes and banjo music. But though these are simple folk the demons that Jesco wrestles with are not discriminatory of race, class or social disposition.