Movie Review: Scars of Youth
John R. Hand‘s second feature, Scars of Youth, takes place “200 years in the future,” but there’s no indication that time in the film is moving forward nor that any of it is taking place except in the head of the main character, an agoraphobic freedom fighter named Paul (Jeremy Hosbein).
The only thing we know for certain is that Paul has unresolved mommy issues. He visits his mom Helen (Amanda Edington) from time to time in a decrepit, abandoned building where they bicker over mom’s addiction to some mind-altering liquid. Except, mommy looks not only exactly the same as she did when Paul was a little boy, but she appears to be younger than her son, especially when she’s naked. And she’s full-frontal naked in front of Paul a lot. For that, it’s quite a brave role for Ms. Edington.
But something traumatic happened to Paul when he was a little boy (Matthew Edington) and although he fantasizes about the idyllic days of his childhood quite frequently, he can’t quite bring himself to conjure up whatever bad happened to him. He obsessively stares at a picture taken of himself and his mother during happier times and the closest we get to a negative memory is when he and his female playmate (Megan Edington) run into two men in Hazmat suits who probe them with strange equipment.
Like with his previous feature Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare, here Hand relies more on mood and ambiance than on actual plot. There’s extremely little dialogue in Scars of Youth, but Paul is the equivalent of the unreliable narrator. He’s our only indicator that anything in Hand’s futuristic world exists and, in addition to his mother, the only other person he ever interacts with is a fellow resistance fighter named Harold (Bruce Culpepper).
The interaction between Paul and Harold only pays lip service to a world outside of Paul’s dilapidated one-room cabin, which, like the padded walls of an insane asylum cell, are totally white. Harold is trying to smuggle the addictive liquid across some kind of barrier that keeps him and Paul living in a remote wooded location. Paul hopes that someday the checkpoints at the barrier are loose enough that Harold will be able to smuggle Helen to the world outside. However, the barrier — even though we never see it — is allegedly closing in tighter on them.
The sci-fi allusions in the film, however, come across as merely a McGuffin. Everything Paul encounters only encourages him to become more and more withdrawn: Hazmat men torturing innocent civilians, Harold’s description of the “outside” world we never see, the bottles of addictive liquid Paul is afraid to drink, et. al. The state of the “checkpoints” don’t mean squat. The real plot drive is how Paul resolves his feelings towards his mother.
Scars of Youth is less visually experimental than Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare, but Hand’s fairly more straightforward approach — at least in how shots are composed — is still quite beautiful to look at. Especially with the sparseness of dialogue, it’s the imagery that has to carry the bulk of the story. Actually, the dialogue is practically irrelevant. Hand has composed much of the film so that each image stands out separately and distinctly from the others. While the progression of images seems less a linear one and more of a thematic one, Hand still keeps the action moving along at a leisurely comfortable pace.
The film is also shot so that the “modern day” action is soaked in moody blue hues, while the flashback sequences are in a metallic black and white. So, the occasional glimpse of blood or the lingering shots of Amanda Edington’s nude figure really pop out of the screen. Also, like with his previous film, Hand again relies on a swirling, ambient noise soundtrack. There may not be much talking in the film, but the aural landscape fluctuates between airy compositions to industrial hums.
Scars of Youth is another successful experimental tweaking of a familiar genre for Hand. First he took on horror, now its sci-fi. What’s next? If I can be bold enough to make a suggestion, I think he could make a killer western.
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