Dayveon (Devin Blackmon), a 13-year-old boy, lives with his older sister, Kim (Chasity Moore) and her boyfriend, Bryan (Dontrell Bright), in a small Arkansas town. Kim has a 3-year-old son to take care of, so without her and Dayveon's parents in sight, Dayveon has no parental figures to look up to other than Bryan. No matter how hard Bryan tries to keep him safe, Dayveon, along with his friend, Brayden (Kordell “KD” Johnson), nonetheless ends up joining a local gang called the Bloods.
Dayveon is a slow-burning, atmospheric drama that takes its time to immerse the viewer in the life of its protagonist. Writer/director Amman Abbasi follows Dayveon around as he idles away during hot summer days. For the most part, many scenes will make you feel like you're watching a documentary because it's so grounded in realism. When Dayveon joins the gang, suspense gradually increases, but it's not an edge-of-your-seat kind of suspense as you're wondering if and when something tragic will befall Dayveon or one of his friends. This isn't the kind of film that has a complicated plot, though; it seems more concerned about establishing atmosphere. Abbasi includes very little of backstory to Dayveon: all we know is that his parents aren't around and that he's still grieving over the death of his brother a few years back. There are no flashbacks or long expository scenes. In other words, Abbassi doesn't hold the audience's hand nor does he spoonfeed it for that matter. He trusts the audience's intelligence and patience.
Dayveon's cinematography should be commended for adding plenty of style, but it's style, at times, becomes its substance. Everything from the camera angles to the lighting, compositions, and the aspect ratio of 4:3 speak louder than words. Some of the shots look mesmerizing and cinematic without going over-the-top. Refreshingly, nothing in the film goes over-the-top---not even the natural performances---so if you appreciate understatement and humanism, you'll appreciate Dayveon even more. It's much more engrossing than the upcoming The Florida Project. At an ideal running time of 75 minutes, Dayveon is one of the most mesmerizing and haunting American films since Beasts of the Southern Wild which be an interesting double feature.