The Movie Waffler New Release Review - WE | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - WE

we dutch film review
A group of teens indulge in escalating levels of sociopathic behaviour.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Rene Eller

Starring: Aimé Claeys, Tijmen Govaerts, Pauline Casteleyn, Maxime Jacobs, Friso van der Werf

we dutch film poster

I wonder what the worst thing about being a teenager is in this hyper-modern, mega-digital world of ours? Is it the intense pressure to become an unsolicited 'The Future'; the promised generation who are going to rescue us all from environmental catastrophe, heteronormative hegemony and Brexit? Perhaps it’s the 24 hour scrutiny social media entails; how you always need to be on, and interacting, and popular, lest you break your Snapchat streak. Maybe it’s spots, and hormones, and exams. I don’t know as I am thankfully past that stage. It is the worst part of anyone’s life, the teen years. And so therefore, I wouldn’t imagine that, in the grand scheme of things, the most egregious aspect of the 2020 salad day is weird, older men writing and directing films about you in a manner that manages to be at once condescending, dismissive and grimly exploitative, but I doubt it’s a bonus, either.

we dutch film review

Larry Clark (*shudders*) has a lot to answer for, legitimising the rich kids gone glamorously bad template which Rene Eller (directing and adapting the novel by Elvis Peeters, who was 52 when he wrote it: "ok boomer") adheres to here with almost complete fidelity, swapping out Clark’s glibly nihilistic urban jungle for the open fields and manicured lawns of an upper middle class border town in Europe. Within this picture perfect pastoral a bunch of good-looking kids who are rich and bored go increasingly and inevitably Bret Easton Ellis over one fateful summer. Get startled, yeah?

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There is a structural problem with We in that the plot sequence (an impressively non-linear patchwork of he said/she said perspectives upon the same events) informs us immediately that things are somehow going to go to shit over the course of the ensuing narrative. Eller opens his film with our coiffured tykes in the dock following the death of one of their number. This flash-forward serves to colour all subsequent events with a pervasive sense of doom, which gives a leaden gravity to the ongoing plot. It’s a cheat, really; a way of imbuing otherwise so-so scenes with unearned drama and appropriated emotion. And so, the innocently giddy last day of school sensations which the first act attempts to communicate don’t ring true, and the film becomes a waiting game for the inexorable come-uppance of our gang. We witness them party, take drugs, and get off with each other (you know, some of the best parts of being a kid), but instead of getting to know our characters and, perhaps, identifying with their youthful sybarism, we’re just waiting for it to get all a bit too much, too young.

we dutch film review

In fairness, this doesn’t actually take long to happen. Early on in the film, at the abandoned country caravan which they make their den, one of the girls, willingly blindfolded, engages in a game of guess who’s fucking you with her male pals, while the other girls crack up. This sort of sexual tomfoolery soon escalates towards home made pornography, prostitution and blackmail, eventually peaking at manslaughter (who says teenagers are lazy, etc). The one-upmanship of the gang is henceforth matched by the film: which childishly and irresponsibly intensifies the delinquency with the same juvenile dynamic as our idiot protagonists. There is an automatic assumption that the audience will find the kids’ sexual experimentation immoral and appalling, but at the same time We’s camera lingers upon its subjects with the pervy male gaze of a wheezing old man puce with concupiscence.

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Are we supposed to judge these kids? Envy their beauteous prime? The film doesn’t make up its mind and you end up questioning who this is all for. The sex scenes are what used to be called hardcore; visible penetration filmed with the fluid approach of pornography; flattering lighting, voyeuristic angles and heroic energy. I feel the same discomfort about this sort of thing in mainstream film as I do the actual animal cruelty in films like Cannibal Holocaust (it was on at a sleepover once and I rang my mum to pick me up rather than sit through it). I’m not sure it is necessary to have seen some kid’s strutting nob or the inside of their vagina to understand the gravity of what they are doing (plus, any moral weight concerning these teens making home made porn is undone by the fact that the film has, you know, just made porn). As the film continues, the antics of the gang get sillier. They cause a mass motorway pile up by flashing their muffs at the passing cars below from a bridge (the victims, we are significantly informed, include a mother and her young children: sobering or what?), and, in one part which made me roll my eyes so violently I went dizzy, someone ties a Pomeranian to the train track. Honestly. It’s like something out of a cartoon made by a twat.

we dutch film review

The potentially interesting tug of loyalties between the cohort, and the ramifications of peer pressure, is overwhelmed by the film’s tedious desire to shock. We is never fun in the way that, say, the peerlessly glib Spring Breakers is (in which, at least, the girls had agency). The opportunity to explore aspects such as the kids’ white privilege (a victim of this gang of complete knobheads is a working-class stall operator at the local fair, a possibly intriguing thematic development reduced to just a visually interesting milieu), the possibility of a thoughtful treatise upon teenage ennui (that enduring bubble of self-importance) are never afforded the extensive exploitation which the actors’ bodies are. Eller, a veteran of music video, shoots this debut feature length film with the same sense of superficial escapism which constitutes the appeal of his previous medium. A nudge-nudge/tut-tut modus operandi that facilely demonises The Kids while at the very same time disingenuously showcasing their nubile bodies for the aging arthouse crowd. Teenagers, and the rest of us, deserve better.

We is on DVD/blu-ray February 18th and VOD April 14th.




2020 film reviews