Wasted on the Young
Reviewed by Damien Straker on March 1, 2011
presents a film written and directed
by Ben C. Lucas
Starring: Alex Russell, Oliver Ackland, Adelaide Clemens
Running Time: 90 minutes
Released: March 3, 2011
Zack (Alex Russell) and Darren (Oliver Ackland) are stepbrothers who are living under the same luxurious roof together while their parents are away. Both boys are on the high school swimming team but Zack is certified as the captain. He's involved with drugs and throwing parties though and is made untouchable by his reputation and his two friends who act like standover men. Darren is far more withdrawn. He spends most of his time studying and playing games but also manages to catch the eye of Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens). She's set to meet him at a party but he arrives late and can't find her. A jealous girl thinks that Xandrie is going to sleep with Zack so she spikes her drink and leaves her at the mercy of Zack and his goons. She is assaulted and left for dead on a beach. With the weight of guilt on his shoulders for ignoring Xandrie, Darren sets out to find out the truth, firstly consulting a security recording of the night.
I admire the courage of the Australian film industry, specifically its uncompromised approach in dealing with important social issues. People who value cinema for safe, populist entertainment often sneer at these gritty and challenging films. As such, they regular fail to excite the box office and are viewed foolishly as artistically meritless. But as important as it is for a film to challenge the realities of our society, there is fine line between a well researched critique of an issue, like in Blessed and The Combination and cheap sensationalism and finger pointing. Writer and director Ben C. Lucas cannot find the balance. There's a nastiness running all throughout his film. It's deliberately claustrophobic, filmed with harsh, dark textures and cold steel. It's effective in unsettling us through its look, its heavy ambient sound effects and clever structure too. It begins in medias res, with Xandrie's body on the beach and then goes back in time to work up to the crime. Where it falters is in its lack of moderation. Lucas doesn't believe in any. His film travels from one extreme to another, solely to inflate the drama and reinforce parents' preconceived ideas about their children.
Lucas likes to paint broad strokes and is for one blindly nihilistic in his outlook of multimedia. The social networking sites and the text messaging shown in the film regularly lead to miscommunication and rumour. The convenience and usefulness of the technology feels entirely overshadowed and overlooked. Even the possible video evidence of the crime takes a backseat to overly dramatic confrontations. Similarly, teenagers might not be the most pleasant people but there are very few who are completely irredeemable. Yet Lucas tries his best to make us think so about a number of his characters. There's a lot of mean-spirited behaviour, coarse dialogue and the needlessly excessive violence. At the beginning of a film a boy asks Zack about the party to which he responds in asking if he's looking for a corner to blow him. The boy is then punched in the face, without consequence. For whatever reason, a freakish red haired kid is also shown sending pictures of his penis to girls at school. There are multiple public beatings in this film too, with people punched and cracked over the head with bottles, a school shooting and even a more implied torture scene. It's gratuitous, not insightful, because these scenes exist only to be climactic, rather than having a willingness to explore deeper psychological experiences.
These problems are frustrating because glimpses of more rounded and developed characters are occasionally visible. Darren is understandably driven by guilt, even if Ackland can't take us to the right emotional levels, beyond his hollow eyes. Russell also makes Zack a more interesting baddie, even if he is a little heavy handed. Zack's a sport jock, but a logical one and uses common sense to distance himself from the chaos. If only Lucas didn't undermine an interesting trait straight after Zack talks himself out of a situation with a panic attack. It weakens our belief in his confidence. Clemens impressed me the most. With limited onscreen time she's appropriately more conscious about the situation than anyone else and is as such, more natural, human and touching. The lack of adult characters is still a big pitfall. It's meant to ride the metaphor that these kids have no one to answer to. But their omission is never properly explained and it allows Lucas to distance them from a lot of the blame. Like so much of the film, it just makes us wonder why he's so strictly negative about today's youth.