In a word: Intriguing. In a few more, Wasted On The Young is an ardent revenge film that shows substance and style in some areas, but appears to have bitten off more than it can chew in others. This little-known Australian film continues to follow the trend in the local film industry. That is, for every Kenny and Kings Of Mykonos crowd-pleaser released, many more dark and brutal Aussie films fall by the wayside only to be discovered by a handful of people each time Animal Kingdom being a noted exception).
The film follows Darren (Oliver Ackland), a nice-enough high schooler who spends most of his time around computers and homework. He is the polar opposite of stepbrother Zack (Alex Russell), whose priority is maintaining a reputation as Mr. Popular. Things take a sinister turn when the shy Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens, a dead ringer for Michelle Williams) is invited to one of Zack’s house parties and goes missing for almost a week afterwards. By the time she returns, the school is brimming with rumors surrounding her disappearance, and Darren, suspecting his stepbrother and his nasty bunch of friends, decides to find out the truth and punish those responsible.
As mentioned, cinematic style is a big part of Wasted On The Young, and may well be the film’s highlight. Unique editing and camerawork during the house party scenes result in an indulgent, but not stereotypical, world that these kids inhabit. It’s certainly no accident that the house used is an extremely modern one, full of glass corridors, open spaces and hidden rooms that allow the camera to almost become another character.
As for substance, Wasted On The Young is rife with themes relevant to today’s social landscape. Positively, these themes keep from interrupting each other because of the way they are presented one after the other, compounding the film’s message. While it starts out as a critique of social networking, it soon becomes more about what our society may be reduced to in the absence of all authority — where the strong rule and the weak have no freedom. As if that wasn’t intense enough, it goes on to pose a more challenging question: What happens when the weak decide they’ve had enough?
If that sounds like a badly concealed ad, I’ll stop now. Because for all the thought-provoking ideas being presented, none of them are really driven home enough to make one think, “Yes, that’s the message the movie is trying to make.” The fact that it is set in a private school leads to a lack of realism regarding the whole “no authority” angle, but once you make the connection that the setting only exists to support the metaphor, the film becomes a little more immersive. Other moments, including the climax, completely remove the moderation and consistency from a film that had remained fairly grounded in believability until that point.
Wasted On The Young could have dropped below the ninety-minute mark by cutting out a lot of gratuitous and unnecessary fluff during the third act. Fights and arguments among secondary characters were clearly included to both resolve character arcs and build the severity of the climax, but all they end up doing is ruining the pace and prolonging what has become a foregone conclusion by this point.
Nonetheless, in a choice simply between “go” and “don’t go”, I say, “Go,” if for no other reason than to make up your own mind on this ambitious endeavor.