The Young (2011) – By Philip Smolen

In post apocalyptic England, a large portion of British society is controlled by The Front, a brutally repressive regime that insists on total loyalty. Sergeant Sanders (Ben Longthorne) arrives at his new compound and is immediately promoted to Captain. He is then given a special mission. He must take a patrol out into the wilderness and find some members of a resistance movement who await the return of Cael (Richard Weston), their leader. Cael was part of the resistance but was captured by The Front. Now after being beaten and tortured for five years, Cael will be escorted by Sanders and his team back to his “family.” Once they are located, Cael must prove his loyalty to The Front and execute everyone he once led. But a member of Sanders’ team named Bryant (Darren Pritchard) wants the pleasure of killing Cael himself, since the former rebel leader killed Bryant’s father many years ago. On the journey, Sanders finds his group fragmenting and fighting with one another. So not only does Sanders need to keep his team together as they trod through the desolate landscape, he also has to keep the mysterious Cael alive in order to complete the mission.

Richard Weston’s film “The Young” is an ambitious and very different treatment of a post apocalyptic thriller. Unlike most films about this topic, there are no singular heroes who rediscover their humanity and make the world a better place for future generations. This is a bleak and desolate movie full of hatred, bitterness, and despair. These survivors are barely hanging on to life. As they move throughout the blasted countryside, they realize that they are earth’s last generation. Blindly following a cult-like organization, they cling to a life that promises nothing but pain, devastation, and death.

There are similarities between “The Young” and Anthony Burgess’ classic novel “A Clockwork Orange.” Both the book and the film examine the effect of a post apocalyptic world on the generations that come of age after the end. Burgess sees the young joining gangs for their survival. Weston sees the young recruited into the service of a brutal totalitarian regime to do their dirty work.

In some ways, the film also reminds me of the early works of David Lynch. Weston’s photography (he shot the film as well as wrote and directed it) is all polarized black and white, and looks much like “Eraserhead.” The process serves its purpose and helps drain the movie of hope and reinforces the feeling of despair.

And just like “Eraserhead”, “The Young’s” narrative is broken and fractured. There are flashbacks and flash forwards, and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish them from the rest of the story. Also, a lot of the narrative is quite confusing. For example, it’s never made really clear why Cael’s family waits for five years for him to return after they see him captured by The Front.

Weston has too many scenes of intense close-ups of the actors with angst-ridden faces and thousand yard stares. It’s established early that everyone lives in his own private hell, but Weston’s overemphasis on these extreme close-ups depletes much needed energy from the movie and slows it down to a crawl.

The music by Alastair Baillie is all reverb-soaked broken guitar chords and jangly single note lines repeated endlessly. The sound track is also full of unusual sounds (again, reminiscent of Lynch’s “Eraserhead”); vague industrial noises, howling winds, freak rain storms, and barking dogs (which could just represent the hounds of hell coming to claim Earth’s remnants). All of these elements further cement Weston’s theme of the sheer hopelessness of everything.

In such a bleak film, you need your actors to really shine. Unfortunately, many of the characters here are too similar and their performances are lacking. Ben Longthorne is one dimensional as Sanders; he’s all rage and puzzled looks. Except for his first scene, we never get to see what makes him tick. Weston’s Cael has the look of a man who has seen it all, but his performance lacks enough conviction to pull it off. Only Nat Quatermass (love the name!) as Sophie and Darren Pritchard as Bryant rise above the others. Quatermass provides us a few glimpses of her character’s softness and soul. She’s the young private who’s constantly reminded by Sanders that she’s nothing but a soldier. Pritchard brings a real devilishness to Bryant. He lets you see the inner workings of his mind.

The major problem with “The Young” is its length. Not enough happens over the course of its three hour running time. An explanation of how the world got to such a bitter end would help greatly. Too many scenes focus on drawn out close-ups of the actors’ faces and silhouettes of them endlessly moving through the British countryside. Weston succeeds in creating a nightmare world, but he bludgeons this idea home repeatedly from the opening scene to the final moments. This movie was a real downer for me.

There’s no question that “The Young” is different. You may want to check it out if you want to see an unusually long variation on the post apocalyptic thriller. This one breaks all the rules established by the genre. However, it’s unfortunate that it fails to establish any new ones except for a dark and relentlessly depressing mood.

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