Young, High and Dead

United Kingdom. 89 minutes. Directed by Luke Brady (with Jonathan Brady, Daniel Fenton, and Thabo Mhlatshawa), 2013. Starring Hannah Tointon, Louisa Lytton, Philip Barantini, Matthew Stathers, Nigel Boyle.

Five friends head off to the woods with a tackle box filled with drugs for a weekend camping trip. This works out about as well as it does in every other horror movie in which five friends head off to the woods with a tackle box filled with drugs for a weekend camping trip.

Oh look, it’s another low-budget slasher movie about a group of friends who get knocked off one by one in a remote location. I don’t think I’ve seen one of those for, let’s see, probably a couple of months.

Now, everyone here knows that I’m not the biggest fan of slashers, but I appreciate when they’re made exceptionally well or has a little something inventive or at least out of the ordinary. I didn’t much care for Don’t Go to the Reunion, but it has distinctive character work and entertaining kill sequences. Dead Bodies Everywhere has its flaws, but it also has a memorable killer and (once it got going) strong pacing. In both cases, the filmmakers had a strong vision which shone through.

If writer/director Luke Brady has a vision for Young, High and Dead beyond making a bog-standard slasher movie that does very little to play with the formula or add to the subgenre, I can’t tell what it is. Maybe he wanted to make a no-frills, no-bullshit throwback along the lines of Dead Bodies or If a Tree Falls. If he did, he’s only succeeded in exposing the limits of the format.

Between the nausea-inducing, handheld DV shakycam work and the miserable sound mix, Young, High and Dead looks and feels like a backyard movie despite having a lot of professional, jobbing TV and film actors in the cast. There are, sadly, no Doctor Who alumni on board, but at least I recognized Hannah Tointon from The Children. Or at least I recognized her name; it turns out I kept confusing her with the film’s other prominent female cast member, Louisa Lytton. Considering how well I remember Tointon in The Children (after I wrote it up for Forced Viewing, a porn search engine indexed the review because of a perfectly safe-for-work picture of her I included with it; as a result, it routinely received at least thirty to fifty hits a month for nearly two years after its publication), that’s a strong indicator of just how poor the acting and characterization are.

Poor characterization? More like no characterization. If Mitch Albom were to write The Five People You Meet in Slasher Movies, this lot wouldn’t make the cut. There’s very little to distinguish them from each other beyond gender and the fact that one of the boys has a crush on one of the girls and is an asshole about it. (Hollow does a better job with that particular trope, and Jesus Christ Bananas that says a lot.) It’s hard to keep track of how each of the five relates to the others, partly because of the incoherent sound mix, partly because of the incoherent editing, and partly because of the incoherent plotting. (In the latter case, here’s an example: towards the end of the film, one of the women runs over one of the men–who apparently explodes like Emil in Robocop, judging from the amount of blood on the car–and seems totally unfazed by the fact that she’s just killed one of her ostensible friends.) Not to mention that, once again, here’s a horror movie about five friends who are apparently besties despite the fact that none of them seem to actually like each other–even the ones who are dating. And the killer fails to make much of an impression at all.

Meanwhile, the pacing is absolutely atrocious–nothing actually bad happens to the protagonists until an hour into the film, and despite the word “dead” appearing in the title, none of them actually die until about fifteen minutes before the end. (We do get to see the slasher torture and kill some poor girl we know nothing about off and on through the first act of the film.) The lousy editing renders scene-to-scene continuity a nightmare, and lousy cinematography results in one of the least effective rape scenes I’ve ever seen.

It’s hard to see how any of this can possibly be moderately amusing, let alone entertaining, and scary isn’t even an option. There’s a good movie to be made with these ingredients, but if Luke Brady (or one of his three–!!!–credited co-directors) is going to make it he needs to learn his craft first. Young, High and Dead doesn’t have much to offer anyone other than the diehard slasher fan, and even then, there are much better options out there.


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