Having a friend who has been undergoing several months of venom therapy related to her own diagnosis of Lyme Disease, I watched with great interest the story of the Arata family - Sam (Kenzo Lee), Greta (Nikki Hahn) and Clara (Ashli Dowling), the latter being whose diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis has led them to this mid-80's experimental procedure called venom therapy that involved, quite literally, thousands of bee stings in a process that is timely, exhausting, painful and anything but guaranteed.
Written and directed by Steven Murashige, Venom Therapy is a unique and moving film despite, on the surface, appearing to be merely yet another family drama or, even worse, a "disease of the week" flick. At times, the authenticity in Venom Therapy is so rich that it feels like we could be watching a doc short. There are just enough elements that hint of an intentionally created narrative arc, including a modestly over-dramatized scene toward the end, that one begins to realize that this is simply an effectively constructed narrative drama in which the cure for family always stings.
Ashli Dowling, an actress and producer known for such projects as Kevin Hart: What Now? and Celeste and Jesse Forever, gives a tremendous performance, warm yet heartbreaking and exhilarating, as Clara Roux Arata, whose maternal presence never wavers even as she endures bee sting after bee sting and watches her family become consumed by the possibilities of the impossible. Kenzo Lee and Nikki Hahn both shine, Lee sturdily and believably embodying the role of a husband and father committed to doing whatever possible for his wife while Hahn's performances exudes both maturity and childlike wonder.
Thomas E. Ackerman's lensing is stellar work here, capturing both the intimacy and family and the uncomfortable intimacy of a process that would give even the sturdiest soul the heebie jeebies. Ackerman is a longtime Hollywood vet with projects ranging from the sublime and underappreciated Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World to the goofy yet strangely endearing The Benchwarmers to quite a few others over his 40-year career.
Murashige, a newcomer, has crafted a 20-minute film that lingers in your psyche not just because of its unique theme but because of his ability to paint an authentic, honest story that makes you care about the Arata family and lament the fact that we only get to spend 20 minutes with them.