Michael Shannon in Young Ones

Bifrost Pictures

There wasn’t much hype surrounding Young Ones at Sundance. It was a movie on people’s radar, but after it screened, it didn’t generate much buzz. That’s a shame, because Jake Paltrow‘s second directorial effort is an excellent film. It’s a western with a twist of science-fiction. The sci-fi elements are mostly left in the background, though. Young Ones is a movie that could mostly do without all the futuristic machinery, it’s just an immensely cool cherry on the top. That CGI tech, by the way, is seamlessly rendered into these beautiful desert landscapes. They have a worn down, used quality that suits this old-fashioned story.

Young Ones is about a family. At the beginning we see a father, played with charm and warmth by Michael Shannon, protecting his land from thieves. They’re there to steal his water supply. In this future — what year isn’t stated and doesn’t matter — there’s a serious drought going on. The father and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) hope one day to get some of the water that’s left to run through their land. Their journey leans more heavily on drama than genre thrills, but the trailer would lead us to believe otherwise.

Checkout this somewhat misleading trailer for the film:

Young Ones is an exciting movie, but not for the reasons teased here. The few moments of action and tension makeup a small portion of the movie’s 100 minute runtime. If you go in expecting an action-heavy piece of science-fiction, you may come away disappointed, but you’ll be rewarded with a touching father-son relationship, clever world building, striking images, and what’s sure to make for a calling card for Jake Paltrow. He first directed the 2007 dramedy, The Good Night, which features his sister, Gwyneth Paltrow, but he’ll gain more attention for his sophmore effort.

It would be surprising if major offers don’t start coming his way after people see Young Ones. He clearly understands how to create an emotional atmosphere, get great performances, and take chances. The brutality in this movie is sure to get a reaction out of some people. I’m not referring to the sparse violence, but the characters themselves. They’re all flawed, which causes some messy and frustrating situations. This is the rare science-fiction film where the characters are every bit as interesting as the world they inhabit, if not more so. Both Paltrow and his characters don’t give an audience exactly what they want. Instead the young exciting filmmaker delivers an intimate, intense, and thrilling drama.

Young Ones opens in theaters October 17th.


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