This little film is the reason I do this site – to highlight the hidden gems. YOUNG ONES is a western / sci-fi hybrid. A stylish throwback to the films of the 50s. It’s one of those movies you don’t want to SLIP THROUGH the cracks.
In the not-too-distant post-apocalyptic future, water is a precious commodity. Land is barren. The people are thirsty. The look and feel of the frontier reminded me of films like GIANT (starring James Dean & Elizabeth Taylor) from the 50s. Instead of hoping to spring oil, these poor hard-working folks are hoping for water.
Since it’s the future, technology has some upgrades. Instead of a mule, we get robotic beasts-of-burden. The designs are practical. These robots look worn in, rather than flashy cool and super high-tech. There’s also an interesting exo-skeleton device that allows parapalegics to walk. The tech looks like a puppet on strings attached to an exo-spinal column.
The juxtaposition of the dust bowl with robotic gadgetry gives YOUNG ONES a flavour all its own.
The film is beautifully shot. The landscapes are vast and barren. The isolation is palatable. We get chapter headings focused on one character at a time. We get traditional closing credits with an old school design. I loved how the actors sat in front of a billowing curtain as if they were waiting for an ancient camera to develop their picture.
The movie relies on the brilliant use of dramatic irony. Because of this I won’t spoil all the intriguing twists and turns this character study employs. The movie is thoroughly engrossing. As it enters each new chapter it mounts more and more tension. The story is effective because it all depends on what we know at that time, and what the characters know. This adds an almost HITCHOCK-ian level of suspense. The triangle of dangerous characters and hidden motives reminded me of Polanski’s KNIFE IN THE WATER.
The young cast is rather impressive. Each of them have quiet reflective moments, and explosive outbursts. NICHOLAS HOULT and KODI-SMIT McPHEE excel in their roles. ELLE FANNING is a rising talent, she has a few standout moments, but her character largely connects each story-thread.
MICHAEL SHANNON leads the proceedings. He can say so much with a look. He’s a man of few words trying to take care of his fractured family. He breaks his back to make money and find water, while devious others have plans to rob him of all his hard-work.
Hoult is quite impressive with his threatening stranger. We’re never sure what’s he’s up to, and how far he’ll go to get what he wants. There are a few moments where he really let loose.
Smit-McPhee is the surprise here. He really commands the screen. His character has quite the arc. Watching him deal with conflict and plan his future is just as interesting as watching him fall in love with a young girl. I was really impressed here.
YOUNG ONES has touches of John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, George Miller, and Roman Polanski. We get the Western elements. We get realistic science fiction without exposition. We get the dry wasteland with retro technology. And we get compelling suspense between mysteriously motivated characters. Director Jake Paltrow came out of nowhere and grabbed my attention here. I can’t wait to see his next feature. He’s like Tarantino, in the way he blends the best of legendary films to create something new and different.
If you’re in the mood for something fresh and truly original then don’t let YOUNG ONES slip through the cracks. It’s rare to get an original film that stands on its own now-a-days. Fans of indie films, and steam-punk-like apocalypses will not be disappointed.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
Do you want see more from this daring director?
What did you think of this young cast?
Did you like the sci-fi imagery combined with the western visuals?