Interesting that Shailene Woodley, a still young actress who started off in a teen tv series, is now part of this young adult film by Canadian director Megan Park in her feature directorial debut. The film is screening during SXSW in its world premiere and won the Grand Jury Prize in the Narrative Feature Competition and also the Brightcove Illumination Award. A great start for the director!
Don’t dismiss because it is a film for and about teenagers. There is plenty of depth there which makes it appealing to any age. Its catalyst is a story in which, unfortunately, most of us are familiar with today. A school tragedy. The film looks at how this tragedy affects differently all the people touched by it. Some of the tragedy becomes a positive thing in certain ways while others stay in the pain of it. Some became entrenched in the fear it brought up.
Three young people forge a bond after a tragedy at a high school. Their world is forever changed as a result and change and confusion crop up. How will they handle it is the question.
A school shooting happens. It is tragic and the fear it brings up continues long after the act. It impacts the students there in different ways. 16-year-old Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega – Iron Man 3, Yes Day) is in the bathroom when shots begin to ring out in her high school. We don’t see the shooter, but we focus on Vada and another teenage girl, Mia Reed (Maddie Ziegler – The Book of Henry, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You) as the hide in a stall together.
Interesting that these two girls end up together as Mia is one of popular girls and Vada isn’t. Vada and her best friend Nick (Will Ropp – Silk Road) make fun of Mia behind her back. Suddenly a very bloody Quinton (Niles Fitch – from television’s This is Us) joins them in the bathroom. After the shooting is over, the bond between the three from the bathroom remains. Quinton suffers a setback while Vada and Mia end up relying on each other heavily. Will becomes an activist. Vada starts seeing a therapist (Shailene Woodley – The Descendents, The Fault in Our Stars) to talk about things.
All aspects of this story his handled with respect and a delicacy. This while still piercing your heart at times. IT looks at issues of utmost importance to young people today. For the bad and good. Tackles social media and the falsehood involved in much of it. It is so powerful to do this. Speaks the language of young people. Pulls them into the discussion by including them.
Parts of it are rather tough to watch as it is always hard seeing people suffer. Especially people so young who are just beginning to get a grip on life and figure things out. Vulnerable people. A tragedy like this would be hard for even a fully formed human to deal with. When this much is asked of teenagers it is too much. They do not have the level of life experience required. Many turned to self healing or medicating things like alcohol or drugs in order to deal with something so horrific and scarring. Then there is the issue of them having to go back to the place where it happened. To spend a lot of time there. A place which no longer seems safe to them.
We begin to realize, the more the film goes on, that this whole generation of teens, Gen Z, have had to deal with too much. Violence like school shootings, the present pandemic, online bullying, and the threat of climate change. All each in their own, hugely traumatic occurrences, but all together….tough stuff for young people to deal with.
The film was not only directed by Megan Park, who starred with Shailene Woodley in Secret Life of the American Teenager, but also written by her. She is a known actress and has now decided to go behind the camera in an attempt to tell stories she sees as important. School shootings, terrorism and violence is something that is, unfortunately, a daily part of life in most of the world. As such, it is a universal subject with plenty of different types of emotions involved. Props to her for making a film which looks at big issues. Important issues. Then admitting that she does not have all answers leaving the ending rather open. And handling it all so maturely. Quite an accomplishment for a first time director.
Plus it features a score by talented and uber hot Finneas O’Connell (brother of Billie Eilish). This is a film which is made up of all the essential elements being solid – story, direction, acting, soundtrack – adding up to a film which will move you in many ways.