When a high school party goes dangerously off the rails, one teenager finds that revenge is just a computer click away.
Darren (Ackland) is the stepbrother of Zack (Russell) Both attend an elite co-ed high school. The stepbrothers have little in common. Darren is an inventive computer geek who is somewhat socially inept. Zack is an A-type personality who lives to dominate others. He is captain of the school swimming team. He bullies Darren and manipulates his own clique. He is king of the popular kids. One student who is immune to Zack’s charms is Xandrie (Clemens). She is an independent girl who has her eye on Darren.
Zack invites Xandrie to a party at his house. She is soon out of her depth. The events that transpire feed the school rumour mill. Soon everyone has an opinion about what happened and who did what to whom. Thanks to the speed and reach of social networking a serious incident quickly becomes a matter of gossip and conjecture. This causes a dangerous escalation of emotions and subsequent actions.
WASTED ON THE YOUNG is the story of teenagers being allowed adult freedoms before they have developed the knowledge and responsibility to handle them. In this sense it is a classic cautionary tale. The line between child and adult is a blurry one and no one goes through this transition without significant pain and humiliation. However, in this story the popular kids of the swim team and their hangers-on are not only causing greater pain to others they have become a law unto themselves.
The movie takes place in a teenage universe. The over-privileged kids have absent parents. In fact we are never shown adult mentors of any kind. Writer and director Ben C. Lucas has explained there was a scene with a teacher, but it was cut because it stood out from the rest of the film. This decision creates a hermetically sealed environment where youthful angst is the norm. The audience sees no modifying adult influence, so the mood swings and drama of adolescence become the truth of the story.
Lucas takes our knowledge of stories like the 2006 case of the Duke University lacrosse players who were accused of rape and he has investigated the aftermath of such events. The film examines the idea that a group at the top of a social hierarchy can commit a crime and escape punishment. As the character of Xandrie points out, this situation exists because those lower down on the ladder allow it to continue.
The film has a startling colour palette that gives many of the scenes a cool, metallic feel. The underwater scenes in the school swimming pool have particular visual impact. The strong look of the film combines with a layered soundscape of screeching technology and pulsing electronic music; a computer or a cell phone is always making an alert sound. The music fills the emptiness of the designer spaces. The result is an intense and disorienting ambience that keeps us slightly distanced from the characters.
Lucas elicits excellent performances from his young cast. Oliver Ackland, Adelaide Clemens and Alex Russell are very effective as the leads. T.J. Power as the swimming team’s enforcer perfectly embodies the part of unthinking thug.
At times, I was frustrated by the passivity of the character of Darren, but this is a key element of the story – the film overtly asks the question: what is the difference between an onlooker to a crime and an accomplice? I also believe my feeling is a result of placing an adult worldview and judgment on the young characters. In this way, WASTED IN THE YOUNG feels well aimed at a young target audience. They will immediately understand the emotional hothouse atmosphere.
Although it is great to see an Australian take on a dark teen-themed tale, the movie doesn’t pander to us by creating an overtly Australian identity. It’s shot in Perth, but could be set in any of the capitals. The characters speak with Australian accents, but the story has appeal beyond our borders.
WASTED ON THE YOUNG runs for 97 minutes. It opens on Australian cinemas on Thursday 3rd May. I rated it 3/5.