Based on the novel ‘Wij’ (“We” in Dutch) by Elvis Peeters
Director / Writter: Rene Eller
Actors: Aime Claeys, Tijmen Govaerts, Pauline Casteleyn, Maxime Jacobs, Friso van der Werf, Folkert Verdoorn, Laura Drosopoulos, Salome van Grunsven, Gaia Sofia Cozijn, Tom van Bauwel
Language: Dutch and Flemish with English subtitles.
Running time: 90 minutes
You never forget your teenage years: the plans you make with friends, the bright future you watch with wide-eyed optimism, and all of the saccharine memories you make along the way. However, there is also the dark side of adolescence that you venture into, where the mind transitions from teenager to adult, and the morals (or lack thereof) that will guide you on the rest of your journey through life. The latter is the sting in the coming-of-age of “We”.
The premise of the story revolves around 8 youths who spend a summer doing what any enthusiastic teenager would: obsess over sex and making trouble. The former pleasure is quickly exhausted, which causes the group’s leader, Thomas, to suggest progressively more depraved acts to stave off boredom, whilst making some cash on the side.
However, “We” doesn’t start like that – it starts off with a court proceeding that casts an ominous shadow over the rest of the story. There are four overarching chapters, each dedicated to an individual character: Simon, Ruth, Liesl and Thomas. Each of the eight characters have a background and their own personality (albeit several are stereotypical cardboard cutouts), which the audience gets acquainted with as each segment plays out.
At first, everything seems so innocent with the privileged gang enjoying multiple pool parties, each other’s bodies and the trappings of too much free time. Then the ennui settles in, and they jump from juvenile delinquency (snatching an elderly woman’s dog) to cruel criminal acts like blackmail and assault, all while dabbling in home-made pornography between crimes.
There are explicit scenes that induce “hang on a minute, think!” thoughts, but therein lay the power of cinema. For example, there is an instance where the girls flash oncoming drivers whilst on an overhead bridge. You hear tires screech and metal connecting with metal but nothing more is shown, nor is it given a second thought. Later on, they all sit down and read a newspaper, discovering they caused a 12-car pile-up. Emotions flair while morals and consequences are loudly discussed.
And now to mention those points that stood out:
The film itself goes at a modest pace as each story and chapter carefully knits together an overall narrative that gradually unfolds and provides answers. Credit must be given to the editing, as the parts flow smoothly into each other, even in the quiet moments you get a sense of what is unspoken.
The cinematography is superb, shifting between the gang’s hideout, empty backstreets, fields, then to a buzzing club filled with young people.
“We” can easily be compared to the works of Harmony Korine (“Spring Breakers” and “Kids”) and Lars von Trier (“The Idiots”).
Unfortunately, this movie is not without its weak points:
A major concern lays with the predictable plot and “open” ending.
The initial lack of context can be jarring; especially if you don’t pay attention. You can eventually catch up as the film starts to chug along sluggishly after 30 minutes, and then maintains this momentum for the rest of its playtime.
The writing feels incohesive in a handful of scenes where the emotional weight could have had more impact to drive home the point. Whilst there is plenty of nudity and debauchery, it’s purely for the sake of moving the story along, or expressing the vivacity of youthfulness.
“We” is blunt in its overall portrayal but does so in a messy way. It is entertaining and grabs your attention, but the spectacle is somewhat shallow. There is a dark, intriguing idea behind the film, but its awkward execution limits its cinematic potential.