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wasted on the young

Australia 2011
Directed by
Ben C Lucas
97 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars

Wasted On The Young

Synopsis: Darren (Oliver Ackland) is the new kid at school, and the new step-brother of high school kingpin, Zack (Alex Russell). Captain of the swim team, the most popular kid at school and resident drug dealer, he and his cronies rule the social hierarchy. Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens) has a thing for Darren, and Zack has a thing for Xandrie. But when Zack’s jealous girlfriend drugs Xandrie, things go horribly awry and Darren finds himself alone against the school bullies.

The feel-bad hit of the summer, Wasted on the Young is a bruising and, initially, extremely annoying story of unlikeable teens being extremely unlikeable. Drugs, date-rape and general debauchery are the order of the day, as these soulless teens ride high on superficiality and casual cruelty. Life in the age of Facebook is artfully depicted, as popular opinion is shaped by postings on the message boards and innuendo in the hallway. The gangster nature of school bullying is highlighted but shown as a front, a borrowed identity for kids too frightened of their own actions to own them properly. Everything is a mask, something to get through the day and survive. It’s a bleak view of life, and totally immersive.

Darren’s attempts to get at the truth of what happened between Xandrie and Zack, and how it happened, are pure thriller. Darren finds himself blocked almost every step of the way, the school social networks siding with Zack and steadily increasing the sense of oppression. But Darren is an incredibly smart kid, and as we begin to see the form of his revenge on his step-brother, you have to take a step back and admire the intelligence of writer/director Ben C. Lucas. See, despite the “bullies are bad” commentary on school life, this is basically just a revenge thriller set in a high school. As such it could easily have been an efficient exercise in catharsis or despair, but what sets it apart from the run-of-the-mill is that it interrogates the nature of revenge. One of the regularly ignored features of vigilante cinema is that the vigilante isn’t exactly heroic. He’s a selfish individual, exorcising his own demons under the guise of extracting revenge for the downtrodden. Here, that notion is thrown into sharp relief, and Darren is made totally aware of this. His solution to the problem is innovative and surprising. I remain impressed at how effectively realized this aspect was, even over and above the exceptional direction and pacing.

The HDR visuals are stunning, creating a distinctive look that will probably be compared to Bill Henson’s photography, but in truth only a few shots actually feel borrowed. There’s a strong sense of style at play here, exploring the idea of life lived digitally. Distorted visuals are thrown on screen as if they’d been corrupted while streaming over the net, while texting pops up in the background of a shot as the characters type into their phones. It’s effective without every being showy, and the film is all the better for it.

Wasted On The Young will put you through the wringer. It's a raw emotional and involving experience because for everything it gets right there’s plenty that annoys, but it’s so strong that it carries you along all the same. I’d say it’s about thirty seconds shy of brilliant, but I can equally see why the choice was made to leave those final moments in. This is the best looking Australian film I’ve seen in years, and thankfully it’s got a lot more going for it than brilliant cinematography. It’ll have you on the edge of your seat and fill you with anger, but if you’re willing to go through it, it’s a very worthwhile journey.




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