Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2017 11:28 pm 
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In search of Eden

Basically this is innocents pursued by nasty people in a threatening environment, and a nice little story about that. Director Matthew Ogens, whose background is in documentaries, logically chose Detroit for his post-apocalyptic action, and received special Michigan State Film Office aid which has apparently now been curtailed. That town certainly has a wealth of desolate and bombed-out or destroyed or grown-over settings whose beauty has been shown in several documentaries (see Wild City and Detropia). Exactly what has happened before the outset of Go North isn't clear, but the adults, including parents, seem to have been wiped out. Only a few kids remain, ruled over by bratty males in their late teens. So Lord of the Flies has been mentioned; but characters aren't so colorfully differentiated, or levels of social interaction as interestingly defined, as in Golding's book. Somewhat oddly, the kids are in school, and the older boys act as teachers, of survival skills apparently - an opportunity for comedy that's missed, since they know little but how to smoke, drink beer, and talk mean. However this little post-devastation world does have its own set of Orwellian laws to be obeyed, including a denial of "Before" - that there ever was a past.

The movie would seem at first to be a washout except for its interesting use of Detroit - were it not for the way it's carried easily by its reedy, scrawny young lead actor (who's several years older than he looks), Jacob Lofland, who got his start in Jeff Nichols' Mud, with Matthew McConaughey, and Tye Sheridan as the other boy. Lofland has a long, delicate face and an open, wide-eyed look. He seems both fearful and gutsy, weak, but with a weathered toughness, armored by his salty Arkansas drawl. Despite the rule against "Before," he keeps having touching brief flashbacks. These are well done, and John Tipton's cinematography and Greg Kuehn's and Chris Walla's delicate, nervous score are never anything but beautiful.

When Josh (Lofland) runs off, he's joined by Jessie (Sophie Kennedy Clark), so this becomes a teen post-apocalyptic coming-of-age romance, and a chase, because somewhat inexplicably, maybe just as a lark, and to put their spruced up vintage red car to use, they're hotly pursued by the gang of four top A-List boys, bent on destruction. There is no electricity and no heating, and winter is coming, and they think they can survive only by making all the kids work hard and stay around towing the line. Besides, Jessie is the sister of Caleb (Patrick Schwarzenegger), the boss boy.

As Josh and Jessie move further north, things become more Edenic, though at first they're just back where Jessie's parents came from and touchingly, they visit a library. The bad boys are always closing in for a showdown, but I could have watched Lofland and Clark together a while longer. They make a touching couple indeed. But this is thankfully a little film that does not overstay its welcome, providing just enough and no more and ending with a delicate ray of hope.

Go North, 93 mins., has limited theatrical (AMC Theaters) and VOD release by Orion Pictures and distributed by Gunpowder & Sky starting 13 Jan. 2017.

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