SXSW 2011 Review: WASTED ON THE YOUNG
Writer: Ben C. Lucas
Director: Ben C. Lucas
Cast: Oliver Ackland, Adelaide Clemens, Alex Russell, T.J. Power
In Ben C. Lucas’ feature debut, the Australian writer and director attempts to add to the recent deluge of strong, serious Aussie thrillers, but his prep school-set flick never reaches beyond anything that’s gone before it. WASTED ON THE YOUNG introduces us to two very different stepbrothers, geeky cute Darren (Oliver Ackland) and big man on campus Zack (Alex Russell). The boys have nothing in common besides their mutual membership on their upscale high school’s swim team and the looming, tricked out mansion they live in with no parental supervision. When Zack throws a roaring party, things spiral out of control amidst a haze of driving techno beats, flowing booze, and piles of cocaine. Darren, usually content to hide out in his room playing video games during Zack’s epic parties, is sucked in, as it appears that the girl he likes, Adelaide Clemens’ Xandrie, may have befallen some sort of harm at said party.
The film starts strong, featuring a slick, intriguing opening that makes WASTED ON THE YOUNG feel like it won’t be, well, such a waste. But the film is only a gussied up amalgamation of other “high school gone wrong” flicks, like SWIMFAN, I KNOW WHAT DID LAST SUMMER, HEATHERS, BRICK, and ELEPHANT, so that it feels eerily similar to just about every other entry into the genre. There are points when the film begins to rise above its original plotline, and just when WASTED ON THE YOUNG seems unabashedly cookie-cutter, it hits you with a couple of surprises that seem to signal that there is something more to be found, but it’s simply not so.
It’s also another film where the high school parties are ridiculously, out-of-bounds unreal. The world of Darren and Zack is without any sort of adult control, and the dueling brothers act out their Shakespearen tragedy lite with seemingly no impunity. When the bad behavior starts to ratchet up exponentially, Zack’s nefarious number two, Brook (T.J. Power) giggles that the boys are “dead already, this is the afterlife. “ Looking at what comes after, it’s hard to believe it’s just not Hell itself.
Lucas’ young Australian cast is certainly game enough in their attempts to elevate the material. Ackland straddles the line between good and bad with ease, and it’s no stretch to imagine the darkness lurking just behind his slightly nerdy image. Clemens, who looks uncannily like a young Michelle Williams, matches him well, and it’s a shame we don’t see more of her in the film. Alex Russell is a prototypical high school jerkoff, made stronger by his cronies, particularly Power, in what is the most haunting and disturbing performance of the whole film.
The film tries to jazz things up by utilizing flashforwards and flashbacks, overlaying text on screen to represent both text and instant messaging, and pixelating away scenes that aren’t quite real. But it’s just not enough, and all those attempts to use techy tricks and twists don’t hide the fact that it’s nothing new, a throwaway thriller steeped in the oversexed, oversaturated world of Skins. WASTED ON THE YOUNG tries to be hip and modern with all its characters running about texting and Facebooking and ruining each others’ lives through the immediacy of technology, but it’s all just glossy distraction to a weak plot. Lucas clearly has a strong, personal point of view, but the material at hand is not enough to make WASTED ON THE YOUNG feel like nothing short of a waste of something we’ve seen before.
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