In Wasted on the Young, Ben C. Lucas’s riveting if overdirected meditation on power and privilege, a lavish high school party spins out of control when three of the school’s popular swim team elite, led by the untouchable Zack Masters (Alex Russell), repeatedly rape an unconscious girl (Adelaide Clemens) and then dump her on a lonely beach. The student body, in thrall to the ringleader’s looks, charm and cash, is ready to blame the victim, but his geeky, brooding stepbrother (Oliver Ackland) has other ideas.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the teenagers here are largely portrayed by impossibly attractive actors in their late twenties and early thirties. More surprising is that, for once, this doesn’t turn out to be particularly irritating. As in Rian Johnson’s Brick, high school in Wasted on the Young is largely an abstraction, a platform for a distinctive self-contained world – we never so much as glimpse an “adult.” Lucas is clearly after something bigger than a high school movie, and as his plot twists and turns, Wasted on the Young becomes something fairly heady: a condemnation of hegemony propped up by clueless, self-sabotaging masses.
Lucas, an Australian making his feature debut, is an obvious talent in need of a cup of decaf. Stylish and beautifully shot, the movie maintains a pervasive sense of gloom without turning mopey, but the screenplay is stuffed with so many aggressive maneuvers – fractured chronology, dream sequences rendered with pixellated jump cuts, lurches into techno-thriller territory – that it threatens to derail. Ace performances from the three leads and impressive thematic commitment keep the film on track even as it becomes pretty overtly absurd in the last act. It is, thankfully, the sort of absurdity that signals a surfeit rather than a lack of interesting ideas. Wasted on the Young is a tense and relentlessly intriguing high-school-as-microcosm allegory.