Artsploitation Films has released “We”, a controversial film, directed by Rene Eller. It gives us quite a look at “a group of youths and their summer of illicit fun.” It is adapted from the novel “Wij” by Elvis Peeters.
We meet eight privileged and bored suburban teens begin to pull a series of harmless pranks which quickly escalate into games that become more and more depraved. The tees go from innocence to ruthless predators, becoming involved in arson, prostitution, pornography, assault and blackmail. We see a lot of flesh and naked nihilism here.
Director Eller’s portrayal of hedonistic youth has something to say about collective identity. We see this generation’s worst impulses are on display, suggesting that the larger ‘we’ of modern society is also inclined to destruction and debauchery. This depravity comes out of widespread emotional disconnect that brings us to question if a collective ‘we’ can even exist today is these “lonely, narcissistic times.” The reality we see here is based in cold exchanges of capital and instant gratification. People are disinterested in anything beyond pleasure and power.
The film’s fractured, nonlinear narrative presents the same escalating series of events from four different perspectives, each less sane than the last. The repeated scene of four teenage girls flashing motorists on a highway first shows only the group’s silly response to the distracted drivers. It then later shows the fatal consequences of their lurid distraction. With each narrative cycle, the film goes further into the illicit schemes and escapades of the eight central characters and this climaxes with the depraved power trip of the group’s sociopathic ringleader, Thomas.
What begins as a familiar adolescent social life of rebellion and sexual experimentation becomes more dangerous as the largely eight set up a teen brothel while documenting their services in order to blackmail their older clients. We see little regard for the wellbeing of outsiders. They go so far to steal and abuse an old woman’s dog for no reason other than the thrill of doing something awful and the cruelty is also directed internally. The film’s uncensored scenes of genital-centric games and polygamous relationships seem to suggest an atmosphere of sexual liberation yet there is a clear gender hierarchy within the group and we see this when one of the prostitutes is made to undergo a crude abortion.
The film captures a post-modern numbness to the world that allows the characters to callously take part in despicable acts with little, if any, remorse. The film also shows how the older inhabitants of the village community are susceptible to corruption (most directly through the subplot of a local politician who regularly enjoys visits to the teen brothel). Because there is no cultural context for the characters’ degenerate activities, “We” is simply a sensationalist work that often relies on the isolated, parent-baiting shock of its darkest scenes.
The simplicity of Eller’s vision is what gives the film its power as it does not allow the audience any idea of closure. The young and the old are in competition over who can be the exploiter rather than the exploited. There are no moments of reflection and no solutions to be found – and that is where the film’s true provocation lies.
This is not a n easy film to watch especially for parents with children in their teens. It is, however, interesting, daring and provocative. I am certain that it would have been banned outright a few decades ago.