Young, High and Dead (2013) – By Josh Samford

The horror genre, for as much as we love it, has nearly been bled dry. With the awakening of viewers during the 1960s, when Charles Manson helped society look towards one another for their cinematic monsters, we have seen just about every potential type of onscreen serial killer that there is. We have seen cannibals, those with a supernatural edge, and those who vaguely reflect real-life psychopaths. The 1980s nearly killed the concept of the "slasher," after the market became so oversaturated that ticket sales were dropping. However, some things do eventually come back into fashion. Now, with a generation of young people having been raised on slasher films, there is an understandable amount of nostalgia linked to these films. To reinvigorate this genre though, modern filmmakers must fight a battle with current viewers. To simply make another slasher movie that seems fitting for the 1980s is not enough. Making a generic slashers on drudges up the worst aspects of the genre and its sordid history of lacking creativity. Yet, if you can make a slasher film that gives the same sense of adventure, while also incorporating modern ideas and a strong cinematic base, then a filmmaker may just have something worth searching out. Young, High and Dead is a modern slasher from the UK that attempts to do this, but ultimately it pays reverence to the films of the past, but doesn’t provide the same levels of innovation.

Young, High and Dead tells the story of five friends who decide to go on an outrageous camping trip. Their plan is to head out into the woods with a box full of drugs, then spend the weekend getting stoned out of their minds. The first night seems to go relatively well, with everyone doing drugs by the campfire, but when they find the clothes of a missing child near their campsite, the group gets a bit weirded out. Meanwhile, we watch as a cold and remorseless killer purchases an all new supply of tools necessary for torture and mutilation. As our group of young 20-somethings remain stoned in the woods, our killer gets closer to them by the minute.

To get right to the positive attributes found in Young, High and Dead, it is impossible to look over the professional shine found in the production of this movie. While I have some issues with the characters within the movie (more on this in a bit), the performances from every cast member is almost shockingly strong. For a low budget independent affair like this, audiences often need to brace themselves for the worst, but overall the performances here are solid. The professionalism of the production continues and is felt in the stylish visuals that are often presented. Although the movie often relies on handheld camerawork, there are moments of brilliance to be found throughout. During the first third of the film, when the filmmakers try to inspire a sense of dread based upon the dark acts being committed by the killer, the movie hits upon gold. The sets are eerily designed, the soundtrack is ambient and inspired, and the pacing seems to be getting off on the right foot. Aside from some dark scenes near the end, visually the movie is wonderful. Indeed, it has a lot going for it. Even when the characters start to do their drugs out in the woods, it’s easy to get onboard with the film. It’s a fairly interesting choice to have your characters not only smoke a little pot and drink a little beer, but the film actually shows these characters snorting cocaine by the campfire and hinting at a willingness to do harder drugs. Whatever this does for an audience member’s empathy of these characters is beside the point, as it is a rather daring choice to approach such a topic in a brunt way. Yet, for all of these interesting elements, the movie does not prove to be spectacular. While I will not say that Young, High and Dead loses all of its power once it reaches the halfway point, there are certainly some odd elements that prevent this from being as impressive as it could have been.

First of all, the movie takes a very long time before it takes us into its third act. This was a staple of horror cinema in the seventies and early eighties, especially with supernatural films, but the main difference between this and something like The Changeling is how the characters are presented. How much an audience can relate to these characters turns out to be surprisingly slim for a movie that takes nearly an hour before presenting any actual danger for our main cast. While there is some drama developed within the main faction, at the end of the day it all comes across as being rather petty. This becomes increasingly more apparent as the film goes on and their situation becomes rather dire. Is it wholly important to love every character in a movie? Not at all, but normally if there are unlikable characters in a movie, the filmmakers present an intriguing and/or original series of plot strands that makes their story involving. Young, High and Dead tries to tie most of its runtime together with relationship drama that seems very ordinary and dull in comparison to the stalking murderer who only makes his presence known during the final minutes of the film.

Overall, Young, High and Dead is not a bad film. It’s a stylish horror film that tries to throw everything at the viewer. There’s a decent amount of gore during the back end of the movie, visual flourishes, and a talented cast and crew backing up every frame of the film. So, if you’re a fan of modern UK horror, or you’re just looking for something a little different, I would not turn viewers away from the experience. I would just go in with the proper expectations. If you’re like to read more about Young, High and Dead, you can find the official website at : http://www.younghighanddead.com.