Dir. Rene Eller (2018)
A group of teens decide to make money with the world’s oldest profession, turning tricks with important people and blackmailing them afterwards.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Teenagers live in an interesting world. They’re too old to truly appreciate childhood, forced with the upcoming life changes that occur in early adulthood, but they’re too young to truly understand the ramifications of their actions and the impact that they will have on their futures. There are many movies that explore this time in a person’s life: the friendships, the frustrations, and the darker sides that tend to be explored when the brain is not yet developed but the physical attributes are perhaps as perfectly honed as they will ever be. Director Larry Clark made a name for himself in this genre, delivering a cadre of teenage dramas with disturbing implications (Kids, Bully, and Ken Park among others.) The concept of teenagers coming of age while delving into their bleak subconsciouses is fertile ground for filmmakers to tell stories that chill us to our core, and Wij, the recent film from Rene Eller that has just been released by Kino Lorber, is another fantastic addition to the bizarre and unsettling genre of film.
The film is about seven teenage friends who decide to make money during their last summer together. While trying to figure out a way to make tons of money without stealing, the group decides to make pornography. While this is already not a great idea because they’re all underage, they decide to go a step further and have the girls in the group work as prostitutes in order to blackmail their johns, pimping them out to the wealthy, powerful, and connected men in their city. Mayors, businessmen, and all other sorts of rich folks find themselves unknowingly in front of their lenses. The teens recruit others, renting an abandoned apartment that they quickly convert into a brothel, making money by the handful and falling further and further down the rabbithole of sex, power, and violence.
Thomas (Aime Claeys), the sadistic leader of the group, aims the group’s ventures at the town’s mayoral candidate Van Langendonck (Tom Van Bauwel), and the story is told from the perspective of interviews with each member of the group during a trial in which Van Langendonck is accused of running the ring himself and potentially murdering one of the teenagers. It's a brilliant way to tell the story, giving us five different perspectives of the events that unfold that each reveal more and more of the story as it goes along, culminating with Thomas’ testimony that eventually finishes the story. Things go more and more off the rails, revealing that Thomas is perhaps the real villain (and in a story where men are paying to have sex with underage prostitutes, no less.) Is Thomas completely to blame, or is it possible that his family life and possible previous trauma have made him into a nihilistic monster who wants nothing more than to bring everyone else down around him.
Eller delivers a story that is difficult to watch at times, a nihilistic frenzy that is almost titillating in its appeal to our baser instincts. What starts as a story of teenagers who would’ve fit in during the 60’s period of free love and spontaneity turns into a movie that very much resembles the films of Larry Clark in their ability to make us feel all the way dirty as we watch. There’s never a straight answer, and as soon as we find ourselves identifying with the subjects of the film we are given yet another reason to revile them. The characters are, more often than not, repulsive, and the audience finds itself wanting to turn away from the downward trajectory of the group. At certain points they find themselves in too deep, but it’s all a trap of their own design no matter how deep they find themselves. As the story hurtles towards answers, we can’t help but shake the feeling that this feels as if it’s based on a true story, so commonplace are the feelings and traits that the characters exhibit.
Eller is a fantastic director, getting his first chance to helm a feature after a career making music videos for artists like Boy George and Del Amitri. If We is any indication, he’s got a bright career in front of him, because this one was as well-crafted a film as any made by Clark, if not as impactful as those watch-them-once-and-never-again rites of disturbing film passages. The acting is phenomenal throughout, and everything about this movie feels realer than it should in polite society. Kino Lorber has a stellar selection of films, and you can just about bet that you’re going to enjoy whatever they present. We is certainly no different.
Who this movie is for: Disturbing movie fans, Foreign film lovers, Nihilistic teenagers
Bottom line: Kino Lorber once again brings a fantastic foreign film with ominous execution, and this one falls under their outstanding label Artsploitation Films. Director Rene Eller does a great job of making a film that is as gorgeous as it is hard to watch. If you’re a fan of Larry Clark’s films like Kids and Bully (the latter of which definitely reminded me of this film), this one is a must see. I wouldn’t be surprised a bit to find it on some “best of disturbing films” lists in the near future. Check it out at Artsploitation Films.