J.D. Dillard’s Sleight is a low budget coming of age thriller that at first glance gives the impression that it’s some sort of comic book movie in a minor key. Thankfully, it’s a little more inspired than that. Featuring an impressive lead performance and a theme of self improvement, J.D. Dillard delivers a powerful bildungsroman story that keeps the viewer on their toes.

As the film opens, Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a street magician from a bad neighborhood in Los Angeles whose parents are both dead. Bo is taking care of his younger sister, and so leads a dual life collecting pocket change for his impressive street magic tricks, and as a a low level drug dealer for a guy named Angelo (Dule Hill), a man who tries to play the role of a big brother, but is actually ruthless and sadistic.

Bo meets a young woman named Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) who works at a bakery, and he tells her how he plans to save up enough money from drug dealing and then flee L.A. with his baby sister. The film begins with a former science teacher of Bo’s reading a recommendation for the young man. There’s an odd, infected-looking gash on his arm that we know is there for some reason, but we don’t find out until late in the film. In other words, there is more than meets the eye to the film’s protagonist.

Sleight works both as a coming of age drama and thriller. Latimore gives an impressive performance and we come to care for Bo, his sister and Holly, all of whom – as one character puts it – deserve better. The viewer is kept in suspense; especially during a sequence in which a character is kept in the trunk of a car. Another scene, in which a man who angered Angelo is punished, is pretty harrowing.

Although Bo displays his difficult-to-explain tricks throughout the film, it’s not until the end that he puts his powers to maximum use. J.D. Dillard stays true to the low budget aura of the picture, opting not to overindulge in special effects even in the most magical scenes. Anything else would have felt out of character, and most likely would have taken away from the overall impact of the movie.

Sleight is an example of a well-made origin story, although I’d hope that the filmmakers wouldn’t cheapen the experience by turning it into a franchise – that is, assuming that it makes enough money to warrant one. The film’s final scene hints that more could be in store for these characters. If so, I’d hope that its creator would keep any future installments low budget and as personal as this one.