There’s something special about watching independently produced micro-budget films. It’s like watching storytelling in its rawest form. The cast is usually composed of lesser known talent who just want to work, visual effects are minimal and there’s never the feeling of producer interference because the director is usually the writer and investor. The majority of these films are usually terrible, which most likely explains why they’re independently produced, and end up in segments on YouTube. On occasion, however, a filmmaker defies the odds and puts together a film that’s not only watchable, but also inspiring. Cost of a Soul will delightfully surprise audiences up until (almost) the very end.

Tommy Donahue (Chris Kerson) and DD Davis (Will Blagrove) are soldiers returning home from Iraq to their ghetto neighborhood in North Philadelphia. Both men joined the military to escape the lives they are now returning to and they find that little has changed. Tommy gets sucked back into the Irish mob while DD tries to keep his brother from a street life of dealing drugs and threatening people with a pistol. While both men readjust to civilian life, the violence that swirls around them threatens to destroy not only their lives, but also the lives of those they care for.

What separates Cost of a Soul from other low-budget endeavors is its professional quality through and through. Writer/director Sean Kirkpatrick definitely started with a solid foundation in his script, ensuring that the final product never felt small. There are multiple, interesting locations, spanning all the way to Iraq. Characters are well-rounded and dialogue is poignant. There are even some pleasant B-roll shots to break up the plot accompanied by a very listenable soundtrack. This is a film that presents a far more expensive package than it really is.

Sometimes, however, the budget constraints are obvious, but even these moments are handled creatively. The early Iraq scene is filmed mainly indoors and when the story heads outside, the bright sun washes out the background so audiences never know where the real location is. Later, when a character is required to jump through a closed window, creative editing gives a remarkable illusion that the action happened without actually requiring a stunt man or breakaway glass. So while a bigger film might handle these situations with less sleight of hand, the fact that Cost of a Soul still manages these moments with grace is one of the film’s many charms.

The cast is surprisingly strong for this budget level. It’s obvious that Chris Kerson did a great amount of research for his role as Tommy Donahue and he fully inhabits the character. His interactions with the supporting cast, like his wife, daughter and boss, are very genuine and illustrate longstanding relationships that exist beyond the script. Will Blagrove also turns in a remarkable performance. While his too-perfect enunciation betrays his acting early on, especially when surrounded by supporting cast with more stereotypical accents from the hood, he eventually finds his groove and audiences will sympathize with his character the most.

Overall, the story is entertaining and plots of the main characters are engaging. It’s a shame that the two men’s stories weren’t more intertwined, but the film doesn’t suffer too much for it. The only major flaw in the film beyond the expected and understandable constraints of the budget is the ending. Too many things happen in such a short amount of time that seem completely unnecessary. Assaulting the audience with so many surprises feels like a blatant attempt at shock value rather than necessary storytelling.

The best compliment that can be paid to Cost of a Soul is that audiences won’t have to manage their expectations much to enjoy the film. It has a wonderful style, gritty plot and excellent acting. It also has an intimate story with moments that everyone can relate to. It won’t replace anyone’s favorite crime drama amidst urban decay, but it’s definitely worth a look.