Go North Sends Teens Into an Uncertain Apocalypse
The meh shall inherit the earth.
Post-apocalyptic films have been around almost as long as films themselves have, but it’s been in relatively recent years that the genre has seemingly been swallowed up into the YA market. Nearly gone are the violent, skin-filled romps most prevalent in the ’80s featuring gruff anti-heroes begrudgingly helping the last of humanity, and in their place we’ve found a new standard bearer – the moody teenager.
Big franchises like Jennifer Lawrence’s The Hunger Games and Shailene Woodley’s Multi-tasker series (I may have the name wrong) eat up the press and the box-office, but quieter PA/YA films exist on the margins including the likes of How I Live Now, Into the Forest, and the latest example, Go North.
Something has happened, and now only the young remain. Teenagers mostly, living in a ragged collective in a ravaged Detroit. (To be clear, it’s a present day Detroit ravaged by economic woes, not one related to the post-apocalyptic event that’s left these teens to fend for themselves.) Adults are no more, and the remaining youths have coalesced into a Lord of the Flies-like community where the strong – the local high school jocks – run the weaker kids ragged. The younger, smaller, and more fearful kids are used to work the fields and follow strict rules while the older, bigger, and threatening ones maintain order through intimidation and banishment.
Josh (Jacob Lofland) is one of the weak, but he’s also one of the few still capable of thinking for himself. He knows this system won’t last much longer – winter is coming, food is growing scarce, and the violent rule is discouraging to all – and he makes a plan to head north. He’s joined by Jessie (Sophie Kennedy Clark), the girl he likes and sister to Caleb (Patrick Schwarzenegger), the leader of the jocks. The pair set off in search of a new sanctuary, but the new world and the presence of Caleb and his thuggish lackeys on their trail have other plans.
Director Matt Ogens takes fantastic advantage of Detroit’s rundown industrial sector and drab neighborhoods to create a world that feels right at home in a world where something devastating has occurred. It’s a place constantly on the edge of twilight as abandoned buildings feel more and more like tombstones for the unaware. The details of the event are never quite made clear – flashbacks reveal some manner of emergency and clippings tease viral threats and quarantine – but as the kids tell themselves each day, there is no ‘before’ anymore.
The script (by Kyle Lierman and Ogens) teases a remaining viral threat, mostly via the kids’ lack of knowledge regarding their own impending mortality, but some stray dogs aside the only real danger here is Caleb’s right-hand man, Gentry (James Bloor). It works to focus viewers as Bloor plays one hell of an evil prick, but it also lessens the power of the drama at hand. He’s a real jerk – and worse – but he’s one weaselly guy. By comparison, the world outside their community feels absolutely threat-free.
That’s ultimately the film’s biggest issue. There’s rarely any real feeling of momentum or urgency – Josh and Jessie walk with a lethargy typically resigned to the dead, and there’s no pull towards a set destination. Instead of showing progress punctuated by challenges we’re given a short walk periodically interrupted by a car full of jocks (who repeatedly find the pair despite all possible logic and luck). That same lack of movement makes the budding romance between our young heroes feel forced as we don’t really see a relationship build.
They walk. They arrive. The jocks arrive. Rinse, repeat.
The young cast does solid work – yes, even Arnold’s son finds some depth in what could have easily been a one-note role – but there’s an argument to be made that maybe Lofland wasn’t the best choice for the lead. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a terrific actor and it’s great to see him headline here, but his particular style is entirely one of restraint and Southern lethargy. The script lacks a dramatic focal point, and a more dynamic performer might have at least given the illusion of motion. Again, the fault here isn’t Lofland’s. The issue is a script that thinks it’s doing enough but isn’t.
Lofland, Bloor, and the rest still hold our attention alongside the desolate locales and Greg Kuehn’s frequently propulsive score, but the whole of Go North ultimately feels like the first act to a bigger story and journey that never arrive.
Go North opened in theaters and On Demand on January 13th.