I heard about this film on Netflix fairly recently and decided to give it a try. I always like going into films blind, and this film delivered from start to finish. So, a few things first. This film is, I’m pretty sure, in the Drama or Thriller category on Netflix, however, it could EASILY slide into the horror genre because of the realistic content portrayed. This is the debut feature film from director Kevin Phillips about two high-school aged friends and how they cope after a shared trauma in a pre-Columbine culture. It is a fantastically dark look into the world we live in, and the consequences of cause and effect.
The story could have easily been terrible, but it turned out great. This is one of those films that comes off as extremely realistic to the viewer. The relationships the boys have with each other in the beginning is (what I’m guessing) is the real thing. This is what they do when they hang out, this is how they communicate with each other, this is how much they swear, and they aren’t very good at swearing. But don’t you see? They’re teenagers so they’re not supposed to be good at swearing yet. They also mention pop culture tid-bits from the 90s, such as dying your hair with kool-aid and watching the movie True Lies. At one point, Josh, one of the main characters, talks about why he doesn’t like Bagel Bites because they burn the roof of his mouth. Well…that’s the exact reason why I don’t like Bagel Bites. These conversations and opinions are so real they’re surreal.
So SPOILERS AHEAD. The relationship with these kids is great to watch on screen, and it’s a great prologue into the big event of the film. They are all playing with a samurai sword and one of the kids accidentally gets killed after a fight breaks out. The kids don’t know what to do, so they hide the body in the woods, cover it with leaves, and swear to forget all about it. After this, we see the two friends Josh and Zach (Josh was the one who accidentally killed one of their friends, Daryl, with the sword that belonged to Josh’s older brother) deal with what has happened, and what this does to their friendship.
I know what you’re thinking, how can these boys not get caught. Well, watching it, these characters are actually written to be clever, and not dumb. They create plans, cover their tracks, and go on with their lives without their parents really knowing a thing about it – another thing that makes the film endearing. They have common sense, which makes the story all the more interesting to want to follow to the end.
The POV after the incident follows Zach, encompassing his day to day life dealing with school, his new relationship with a girl whom he has a crush on, the incident with his best friend Josh and him trying to salvage their relationship, and simply coming of age on top of it all. We see him visit Josh, try to reach out to him, and try to keep both of them safe while he begins to understand Josh has gotten a real taste for killing, and kills again. The whole time, Zach can’t really know what is going on in Josh’s head. That’s his best friend, and he saw him take the life of another, and connects the dots that he is becoming a predator who can’t be trusted. Zach is trying to cope with the fact that he never really knew the kind of person his best friend really was. It makes the viewer realize that everyone is an outsider looking in when it comes to those who decide to take lives, who are mentally unstable, and who have practically no motive (or at least, no motive in Josh’s case) which is what makes it all the more terrifying.
The performance by each of these kids is fantastic. They do great, and they even have their own little weird actions and idiosyncrasies that are so natural you’d think they weren’t character choices. Also, once we find out more about Josh, he is the great teenage psychopath we all picture in our heads. The way he acts, the way he talks, the way he stands and stares – it’s all there and it’s scary. We are completely unsure of his intentions throughout the entire film, and even before the viewer knows its actually him harming other kids, we are convinced that Zach is an unreliable narrator, becoming paranoid over Josh being a killer. Turns out, go with your gut.
From the get-go, this film is extremely visually dynamic. The beginning sequence is a fantastic and eerie intro to what the viewer is about to experience, visually and otherwise. Just saying, putting a great slow pan of a dark, wooded area has got my vote! It’s beautiful, I couldn’t look away.
This film is meant to be filmed during the cold winter. There’s not really much snow, but it just feels cold and empty. It is lifeless and dull and the viewer can feel that throughout. I’ll mention again the POV of the film, it’s mean to to be from the POV of the best friend, it’s a slow burn, it’s mean to make the viewer paranoid and confused, you’re meant to feel how Zach feels, and how he processes certain things and figures out the truth about Josh.
The last thing I’ll mention is the use of Josh’s dreams as metaphors for everything he is dealing with in reality. He needs to deal with day to day life, he needs to try and act normal, he needs to keep the secret that he was part of the incident that killed someone. He is also dealing with his own emotions growing up, and this incident has catapulted him right out of his innocent teenage phase into hardened teenager who just lost the rest of his childhood. He is trying to juggle friendships, love, hate, fear, and courage and the viewer feels the great weight on his shoulders and how he can move past this and continue to grow.
There are a few things here, since this is something that isn’t too far off actual events that have happened in our time. The first point is to emphasize that this is a pre-Columbine era, so prior to 1999, parents allowed their children to go out whenever, come home whenever and didn’t freak out because no one really had a cell phone or a way to connect with each other. We see that reflected in the film, and how the parents are extremely lenient when it comes to the young boys going out and the degree of freedom they have. Events such as Columbine changed an entire culture, and parents kept a tighter hold on the freedom of their children after that, having created a new rift of fear in parents and kids alike.
The next point is that of survival, which is an all-encompassing theme with all the characters after the incident. How they survive carrying that secret, and for the victims of Josh’s madness, and how they are surviving and getting stronger because of it.
The next is that of Josh’s character, and how could Zach, or Josh for that matter, have known about his violent tendencies. Were they always there, or did they come about after the accident with Daryl? Once Zach found out the truth about Josh, it shattered his whole world. How can you really know someone, even if they are your best friend and you already assume that you know more about them than anyone else?
Another point that is pretty obvious is accidental death when kids or teenagers play with weapons. We see this a lot with guns from gun-owners who are completely careless with the handling and storage of their weapons, but we see a different aspect in the film with the use of a sword. Any weapon can so easily be misused and can kill someone at any time.
Aww yeah that fucked me up – because this shit is real, this film does great in making it as realistic as possible, following the thought process of a friend trying to cope and figure out how to fix something that wasn’t his fault, etc. There are a lot of emotions to cram into this, and everyone executes them extremely well!
Thanks for reading!