2 out of 5
Directed by: Thierry Poiraud
What starts out as a compelling spin on a Lord of the Flies formula, Thierry Poraud’s Don’t Grow Up halts its own progress with some disappointingly generic plot additions, and then, almost literally, does nothing with any of it, stalling for its remaining forty minutes or so while just pointing at its title as its reason for existence.
Several teens of varying jerky variety are holed up in a youth center for a holiday, causing havoc while their supervisor is out and about. Pearl (Madeleine Kelly) is the loud mouthed one; Liam (McKell David) the big-talking leader; Shawn (Darren Evans) his bratty follower; Bastian (Fergus Riordan) is the quiet one; May (Natifa Mai) the pretty one; Thomas (Diego Méndez) is the group’s whipping boy. Breaking in to offices, drinking alcohol, snipping at each other… Normally this dynamic is obnoxious because the featured kids are propped up in a particular fashion: either we’re supposed to think they’re super cool or we’re supposed to hate them. Poiraud, however, doesn’t sit in judgement, and allows all of his actors the room and time to come across as incredibly legitimate and as real people; real teens. They’re not necessarily the most pleasant people to be around, but there’s a very natural camaraderie (or the forceful anti-camaraderie of classmates / bunkmates) that’s interesting to watch. When it dawns on the kids – during an outing to steal some snacks from a local grocery store – that there doesn’t seem to be anyone else around, particularly any adults, and when this is furthermore confirmed by a report of some type of virus outbreak, we’ve already seen and experienced their worst behaviors, so the potential for the flick to explore what happens when already ‘corrupted’ kids are tossed together to survive is very interesting.
Oooor, not even five minutes later, you can just diverge into generic virus outbreak movie tropes, and start killing off people without much consequence or impact. Hanging on to this development as “scary” carries us through twenty minutes or so of a whittled down crew looking for safety, so that the movie can further stomp on any of its unique elements by tossing off one sentence ‘explanations’ to justify – in context – pointless plot turns.
Poiraud’s visuals are compelling, as the director admittedly doesn’t rely on a lot of the stylistic tropes we expect of modern thrillers or horror (the latter genre to which this is adjacent), and the performances do remain incredibly strong throughout. When the score (Jesús Díaz and Fletcher Ventura) makes an appearance, it’s also quite notable. Unfortunately, the film itself starts off with promise that it never ends up fulfilling.