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Australians really don’t take their revenge lightly, do they? Whereas the protagonists of Hollywood vengeance flicks flirt with forgiveness only to eventually indulge in a flurry of violence, locally produced films feature heroes who skip past the insincere suggestions of redemption and jump right into exacting their intricately plotted payback. Ben C. LucasWasted on the Young may now join the ranks of Alexandra’s Project and The Horseman as another bleak, uncompromising – but ultimately entertaining – Aussie revenge flick (with some pretty questionable ethics).

Ostensibly Wasted on the Young is a film about teenagers, but these kids are not like any teenagers I’ve ever seen. Frankly, we were closer to seeing a slice of awkward adolescent life in I Am Number Four. Not buying into the teen universe makes the film’s first act a difficult watch, in which we bear witness to a high school party so raucous you would think it had been catered by Charlie Sheen. The party has been thrown by Zack (Alex Russell), a popular jerk who spends lunchtime sitting on the school bleachers with his minions Brook (T.J. Power) and Jonathan (Tom Stokes), passing down judgment upon their peers and orchestrating evil plots as if they were the Corsican gangsters in A Prophet (yep, another unlikely scenario that makes you wonder if this is one of those “hip” school productions in which they relocate a classic Shakespearean tale into a modern-day high school). Zack’s quiet half-brother Darren (Oliver Ackland) has little to do with those meatheads; instead he’s intrigued by kind-hearted Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens). He tries to find her at the epic, strobe-laden party being thrown at his and Zack’s house, but it’s to no avail. Little does he know, Xandrie has been subjected to unspeakable atrocities at the hands of Zack and his cronies.

It’s at this point all those elements working against the film come together. As we follow Darren desperately trying to unravel the mystery of what occurred at the party, where Xandrie is, and trying to figure out how to make the guilty parties accept responsibility, the film transcends the trappings of a traditional teen parable. It becomes something closer to Rian Johnson’s masterful Brick, in which a bunch of film noir archetypes were anachronistically transported into a high school, just for the hell of it. The inhabitants of the school in Wasted on the Young are pretty much personality free; again, a collection of archetypes. They’re better identified as “the high school” – a thousand-headed hydra that drinks, drugs, gossips, tweets, facebooks and so forth; thinking and acting as one. The school building itself could double as a space station. Xandrie’s notes that things “don’t feel right”, and that it’s as if they’re living in a “parallel universe”. Is this a direct nod from Lucas to the audience? A hint at how to best read his film: not as a high school flick but as a hard-boiled mystery, and ultimately revenge saga that takes place on another plane of existence? Maybe. Or perhaps I’m just looking for reasons to excuse my enjoyment of the film’s impressive middle section, considering it’s sandwiched by a silly opening and a logic-defying ending.

That ending. The third act of the film features a complicated revenge plot that goes for the grandeur and fate-tempting ballsiness of Oldboy, but doesn’t quite stick the landing. The finale also sends out some mixed messages – literally. Without spoiling the final revelation, a bunch of tweets and SMS’ are sent out imploring the high schoolers to put an end to their hive mind mentality. But why? It’s followed by a moment of cosmically-charged revenge that does little except satiate the audiences’ bloodlust and need for resolution. It reminded me of the similarly bleak and morally dubious Aussie film The Horseman, in which the father of a murdered daughter is cheered on for taking his revenge on her killers, without ever turning a mirror on the sociopath who drove his daughter away in the first place. Here, a finger is pointed at the audience to take responsibility for their sheep-like actions, yet they are ultimately innocent compared to the actions undertaken by our so-called hero.

Ackland and Clemens are truly great as the doomed leads, and Lucas shows off some flair behind the camera; perhaps too much flair. There is an awful lot of slow-motion shots, filtered lens-work and jittery dream sequences causing a ruckus here, but he keeps the film moving steadily with the precision rarely seen in a directorial debut. He should also be commended for the sense of dread that pervades every frame. Although it won’t silence that (silly, and ultimately incorrect) stereotype that every Aussie film is a downer, it inspires the kind of stomach-churning anxiety few films can muster.