There is a scene in Wasted On The Young where a female student confides to a male student that their private school seems like a parallel world. That's probably the best way to approach Ben C. Lucas's debut feature, where the events resemble nothing (I hope) like a real high school or adolescence (certainly not those of my experience).
Adults are virtually non-existent in this world; we never once see a teacher and the newly married parents of Darren (Oliver Ackland) and Zack (Alex Russell) have gone away and left the new step brothers alone in the upper middle class home that is as sterile as it is modern. Darren and Zack already have an uneasy relationship but it's when Zack, the unofficial king of the school – captain of the swim team, handsome and arrogant as all hell – decides to throw a house party that tensions escalate.
At this party, Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens, bearing a striking resemblance to Michelle Williams), a fellow student who is as keen on Darren as he is on her, is drugged and left to the devices of Zack and two of his cohorts. It is the aftermath of this incident – the cover-up and lying, the indifference and cruelty of the student body – which leads first Xandrie, then Darren to take extreme measures to right the wrongs.
For the most part, Wasted On The Young plays like a high school thriller, effectively depicting how social networking not only fuels and proliferates bullying but has desensitized the student population to the suffering of others, be it mere teasing, playground fisticuffs, or even gang rape. The absence of adults making a point about the generational disconnect modern technology creates.
But it's in the third act, when Darren sets in motion his rather convoluted plan of revenge against Zack, where Lucas's film came undone for me. The sickly feeling I'd had in my stomach from the film's beginning – where we flash to the end of the first act and the immediate aftermath of the rape; we just know something wicked this way comes – is replaced by the dismay of a young writer-director losing his way. Wasted On The Young loses any pretensions of exploring its young protagonists' dire situation and merely exploits it, and us.
But there's no denying Lucas has talent. The film, shot in Perth, looks good and is slickly edited, at times resembling a music video. And the young cast (though not as young as they should be) all deliver strong performances. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more from all of them in the future, and for Lucas, youthful exuberance may give way to focus and restraint.