Tag Archives: Bullying

Ben X (2007)

Ben X, Belgian director Nic Balthazar’s film debut, is an ambitious drama exploring the autistic mind and how far harassment can go before the victim loses control.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Ben (superbly played by Greg Timmermans), a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who lives with his well-meaning mother and younger brother. Ben spends all his free time playing Archlord, a fantasy role-playing game where he becomes Ben X and plays alongside Scarlitte, a teenage girl who is impressed by his gaming skills. The game gives him a sense of purpose in a world that becomes increasingly out of control.

Ben’s life at school, quite simply, is hell. He is relentlessly tormented by two repugnant teenage boys. His teachers try to help him but are ineffectual. The situation worsens when an embarrassing prank perpetrated on him is videotaped and posted all over the internet.

Feeling that he has no where to turn, he hides what happened from his family and teachers and becomes increasingly disturbed and suicidal. Finally, close to breaking point, Ben decides to meet with Scarlitte, who is interested in visiting him in real life. Together with Scarlitte, his divorced father, and his desperate mother, he comes up with a bizarre plan to get back at his tormenters.

I waited a long time for this movie, and as it generally is in this case, was disappointed. Which isn’t to say thatBen X is a bad film. On the contrary, it has many good qualities. The main thing that struck me was that this is one of the first times a character on the autistic spectrum takes center stage and is treated as a person, not a plot device. Often, the character with autism is used to evoke feelings from the other people in the movie or to teach them what is really important in life.

This film, without avoiding the family’s perception of the situation, concentrates on Ben and his reactions to what’s happening around him. Secondly, the acting in Ben X is top-notch, especially from Greg Timmermans and Marijke Pinoy, as Ben’s mother. Greg Timmermans has excellent facial expressions and mannerisms, and in his and the directors hands, the main character becomes a real person.

Many scenes and situations in Ben X, however, are very melodramatic and over-the-top, but the ending is its greatest weakness. Alternately bizarre and unrealistic, it detracts from an otherwise good movie. The director seems to think that neatly tying things up is more important than realism, and it shows.

The film builds up a great deal of suspense and a foreboding that something terrible will happen, but seems to wimp out toward the end. I don’t enjoy depressing endings, but I felt that the conclusion wasn’t believable at all. I am bound to cut this film some slack, because there are so few movies about high-functioning autism and because I waited a long time to watch it. Although I think it was ultimately disappointing, it also did many things right and tried to do what most directors haven’t done effectively before.

Let the Right One In (2008)


It’s no secret that “Let the Right One In” is my second favorite movie of all time, and was, in my opinion, in no need of a remake. The experience of watching this movie is akin to that of reading a great book — afterwards you want to recommend it to everyone, in hopes that they will feel the way you did watching it for the first time.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an unhappy twelve-year-old boy, is bullied by his peers and fantasizes about making them pay, though for the time being the violence stays within the confines of his imagination. While outside his apartment complex at night, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange twelve-year-old who offers him, for the first time, a chance to dream of a different life.

Eli is not like other girls. She goes outside into the bitter Swedish winter wearing no shoes. Occasionally she smells like a putrid corpse. Animalistic growls emanate from her gut. But she floors Oskar with her concern for him and her insistence that he must fight back, no matter what the cost.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Eli is a vampire, which doesn’t stand by itself as a big spoiler, as it is alluded to in the first twenty-or-so minutes. Eli is not twelve, but rather thousands of years old, and her intentions toward lovelorn, nerdy Oskar are ambiguous throughout.

This is a extraordinarily well-shot film — the snowy, coldly beautiful backdrop is the perfect setting to tell this story, and the cinematography is gorgeous without being showy or pretentious. It is the kind of story that makes you fall in love with its characters. It doesn’t matter if Eli is a vampire or a zombie or even a robot — she is an undeniably real presence, and you root for her as she carries out what must be done.

Lina Leandersson is surprisingly good and carries most of the acting duties on her small, vampiric shoulders. Kåre Hedebrant is a little underwhelming at times but still makes a decent effort, and acts much better than Daniel Buttcliffe is the early HP years. He pulls off the mix of darkness and pain in Oskar’s heart combined with his ultimate naivete.

There’s a lot of symbolism in the second half of the movie (Oskar closing the doors of his toy cars, anybody?) which you may not catch if you are overly literal-minded or are not paying attention. The film never lets us forget the suffering of Eli’s victims, including Lacke, a local drunk she ensnares with a nasty trick and makes a snack out of.

The strength of “Let the Right One In” is that it cares as much about its characters as its blood and special effects. The small bit of controversy it earned with its content involving children is unfounded, and should not deter you from watching what is most certainly one of the all-time greats in modern horror.

Elephant (2003)

“Elephant” is an interesting experiment, which could benefit from some editing and stronger acting. The ambiguity that surrounds the motivations of the killers is a frustrating, but perhaps relevant, critique of the shroud of confusion that surrounded the Columbine killings. 

   Parents, teachers, bullies, and the media were all held under scrutiny, and many school shootings later, we’re still holding candles in the dark as to what motivates these kids to kill their peers- and themselves- in a time that seems rich with possibility.

    The film is presented in a series of vignettes of students habitating a generic high school on the day of a Columbine-like massacre. Using nonprofessional actors and a handheld camera, the film recounts the a day in the kid’s lives- for many, their last- slowly following them around the school as they interact with their teachers and each other.

   The stand-out actors here are Alex Frost, as Alex, the apparent leader in the duo of shooters, and  Matt Malloy as Mr. Luce, the apathetic principal. Most of the acting (unsurprisingly, considering the inexperience of the cast) is rather stiff and listless, while attempting to be ‘real’ and ‘natural.’ The stillness of the performances are rather confusing considering the extreme nature of the subject matter.

   The characters are relatively interesting, not worth falling in love with but worth observing and studying. The most compelling character for me was Michelle (Kristen Hicks) a geeky student who deals with the bullying of her peers and the apathy of her teachers. Self-conscious of her legs, Michelle is told to tough it out and forced to wear shorts by an uncaring gym teacher.

   The kids’ individual dramas are made obsolete, a least for a little while, by the bigger drama of the shooting. This film is SLOW. 20% of the film is spent following the students, watching the back of their heads with intent interest. I would not recommend this movie to people who like fast-paced cinema. To people who are tolerant of slowness and stillness, I would not necessarily recommend it either. 

   “Elephant” is more an experiment than a full-fledged feature, and people out for entertainment should just forget it. But what do you expect with a Gus Van Sant indie movie about a school shooting? Sicko (cough.) Anyway, I feel pretty neutral about the feature as a whole. Some people might find it to be a film-student’s dream, others will be bored silly. Though I may dismiss it, I will not forget it either.

 
         
                                                              

Wild Tigers I Have Known (2006)

“Wild Tigers I Have Known,” Cam Archer’s visually striking but somewhat self-indulgent debut, is an abstract and meandering portrayal of teen angst and burgeoning sexuality. Its youthful protagonist, Logan (Malcolm Stumpf), seems perpetually caught between a daydream and and the harsh, uncaring real world.

Sounds kind of like Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Except that movie actually had substance. Oh well. This movie at least looks pretty, and art-chic-happy film students might find more to love in the film than I did.

13-year-old Logan is lonesome soul, given to walks on the beach and recording himself going on a abstract tangents. He also is in the midst of discovering his sexuality (gay as a maypole) while harboring a crush on Rodeo Walker (Patrick White), the most popular boy in school.

Does Rodeo feel likewise? Maybe so (“girls make me want to go to sleep,” he tells his youthful admirer), but whatever the case, Rodeo isn’t telling. Seeking Rodeo’s affection, Logan creates a female persona named ‘Leah.’ ‘Leah’ calls Rodeo up promising a wild night, but Logan’s naivete is apparent.

I “get” Logan’s inability to connect to, or even maybe occupy the same universe as, his junior high classmates. I go to a school of hundreds of students, and 99% of the time I feel like I’m off on my own planet.

But although Logan is intriguing, the film collapses under its own pretension, with scenes that have no clear dramatic purpose and dialogues that are laughable in their bloated sense of self-importance. And isn’t Logan’s mother’s response to the fallen groceries a little… psychotic? Nobody who’s still on the sanity wagon would react that way.

“Wild Tigers…” sports beautiful cinematography and a couple of well-known actors (Fairuza Balk as the mom, Kim Dickens as the school counselor,) but in the end, it hardly matters. Seeming long at 88 minutes, “Tigers…” ultimately seems like a bit of a chore, never a good  impression for a film to make. Logan entices us but the film keeps us at an arm’s length.