Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 10, 2020)
In the same vein as “youth gone bad” films like Kids, we find 2019’s We. Set at the Belgian/Dutch border over the summer, we meet eight teens: four boys and four girls.
Stuck without much to do, they attempt to enliven their long summer. This means the kids pursue a mix of outrageous methods to entertain themselves.
The kids eventually opt for tawdry choices, and they go down illegal paths before long. All of this pushes toward tragedy.
That last statement shouldn’t be viewed as a spoiler, for the film reveals early on that one of the eight kids dies. We uses a courtroom circumstance as a runner to tell the narrative, so we know of the crime and those elements virtually from the start.
In a creative move, We splits into four sections, each of which comes from the POV of one character. I don’t think this feels like a true Rashomon vibe, as we don’t really get different perceptions of events, but the format allows the characters’ actions to evolve via different settings and attitudes.
This framework allows for the overall plot to develop slowly. We doesn’t reveal its dramatic notions right away, and we don’t put together the nature of the trial fully until the fourth act.
This becomes an intriguing way to view the events, especially because each successive character seems more depraved than the last. We start with a fairly nice, innocent participant and build to one who clearly qualifies as a full-blown psychopath.
This lets us dig into the darkness in a gradual manner. What seems like youthful shenanigans at the start becomes uglier and crueler as the film goes.
Though make no mistake: the movie depicts some messed-up situations from the beginning. These kids make and sell hard-cord porn without a whole lot of apparent prompting, a choice that almost comes out of nowhere.
Still, compared to the nastiness and lack of morality that ensues, the sex tapes seem almost innocent. We follows a dark descent as it goes.
This comes with a dramatic impact, but I don’t think the film holds up to a lot of scrutiny, mainly because it doesn’t develop its characters especially well. We get hints of issues that impact the teens but the film leaves these topics too loose for real insight to emerge.
On one hand, I applaud the absence of too many simplistic “causes” for these kids’ lack of morality. We get some hints of the usual bogeymen – bad parents, abuse, etc. – but the film doesn’t submerge us in these issues, so there’s a refreshing lack of blunt messaging.
But on the other hand, we can’t help but crave some form of information to suss out why these kids act so horribly. We get hints of peer pressure and just the basic decline of judgment borne of the Internet age, but the movie focuses much more on actions than causes, and that becomes a concern.
Much of the time, We feels like depravity for depravity’s sake. The movie rarely manages any kind of deeper meaning, so instead, we’re left with pretty teens who act in terrible ways.
The kids go to such extremes that it seems difficult to view them or the film as some form of cautionary tale. Really, the gang of teens ends up more like a criminal organization than just a bunch of friends who follow an amoral path, and this feels like a stretch.
In the course of a few weeks, the teens manage a bustling Internet porn business as well as their own prostitution ring. All this happens in a sleepy European town, and no one notices?
That stretches credulity, and much of the rest of the film follows suit. We still offers an involving tale of depravity, one that packs a decent punch, but it could’ve been more meaningful with a little effort.