Can’t wait to see: The water-starved dystopian drama of Young Ones

(image via Impawards)
(image via Impawards)


Directed by Jake Paltrow, the dystopian Young Ones takes place in a future that’s almost totally devoid of water, which makes farming a difficult task for hardened frontiersman Michael Shannon and his two children, played Elle Fanning and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Once Fanning’s boyfriend Nicholas Hoult sets his sights on stealing Shannon’s land, the stage is set for all the characters to clash, and they pursue their agendas in a visually stunning, barren futures cape. (Synopsis via Vulture)

Humanity’s almost morbid fascination with a possible bleak dystopian future, one much removed from the gleeful optimism of early science-fiction, continues apace with Young Ones, a film set in a bleakly arid USA where water is now the most valuable commodity going and people will do anything to secure themselves a liveable future in a precarious land.

With so much at stake, it will come as no surprise that Young Ones, which was filmed the arid surrounds of Namaqualand in Northern Cape, South Africa, is marked by violence, betrayal, murder and the crushing weight of disappointment and dark disillusionment.

Ripe ground indeed for an engrossing dystopian drama, albeit one with an almost crushing intensity, which some critics, many of whom saw the film when it premiered at Sundance this year, did not find to their complete liking.

For example, Geoff Berkshire from Variety, though complimentary about the striking cinematography of Giles Nuttgens and the exemplary performance of lead Michael Shannon, felt the movie lost itself in the darker elements of its narrative:

“… the sophomore effort from Jake Paltrow (The Good Night) gets so bogged down in its primal tale of murder and revenge that the most intriguing elements become little more than futuristic window dressing.”

Dominic Mill of We Got This Covered was even less enthusiastic, having this to say about the film’s revenge-centric narrative:

“As an allegory for the death of the Old West, it’s thoroughly interesting, but the film’s engaging first act is cut short by an abrupt jump to a significantly less interesting tale of murder and revenge. It’s at this point where Young Ones really goes off the rails, descending into a confused mix of domestic drama and a parable on the cyclical nature of revenge.”


Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) and Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult) square in an increasingly adversarial relationship that is anything but neighbourly (image via Indiewire)
Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) and Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult) square in an increasingly adversarial relationship that is anything but neighbourly (image via Indiewire)


Other critics however were far more laudatory (albeit conditionally), giving me hope that Young Ones can largely deliver on its unique take on the apocalyptic genre (technically speaking civilisation still exists but not in this neck of the woods it seems).

Andrew O’Hehir of Salon had this to say about the film:

“…  it’s a genuinely idiosyncratic vision of near-future doom that’s never boring, with characters and images that will stick in my mind longer than many better, soberer films.”

While Chris Bumbray at JoBlo was even more effusive:

“Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones is easily one of the most ambitious films to be unveiled at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It takes a page not only from post-apocalyptic actioners like Mad Max, but also Dust-Bowl era literature and films – especially John Ford’s big-screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath – all mixed in with a certain punk rock aesthetic and Tarantino-style chapter breaks. It’s wild, it’s sprawling, and it’s uneven, but it’s also very entertaining.”

Weighing up the various reviews, Young Ones seems to have more pluses than minus, the sort of movie that on ambition alone is worth checking it.

Quite whether it’s a worthy entry into the annals of dystopian moviedom will become abundantly clear when Young Ones premieres in Australia on 12 August 2014 at the Possible Worlds film festival and in USA on 17 October.




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