Movie Review - Sins of Our Youth

According to the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in 2013, sixteen hundred children died by gunshot, over ninety-seven hundred were injured. Among children, the majority of unintentional shooting deaths occur in the home. Most of those deaths occur when children are playing with a loaded gun in their parent's absence. Clearly, these gun-violence facts and statistics were known to Edmund Entin as writer and his twin brother Gary Entin as director while making this film. The events in this narrative could be an extreme example of those, same facts and statistics.

However, the Entin brothers open the movie inside an arcade where the main characters are playing "shoot 'em up" video games. They hold toy guns that are aimed and fired at an electronic screen. They don't watch or talk about a lot of violent movies or TV shows, but they do talk about violent video games. This film suggests that as a result the characters, all boys, get involved in real-life violence. It's meant to be a cautionary tale about a generation of children, including teens, desensitized by an over-saturation of violence in mainstream media, as well as the proliferation of firearms in the U.S.

Yet, arguably, the boys here aren't desensitized. Arguably, they aren't that over-saturated. The boys commit a violent act and do so jubilantly, but when blood is spilled, the boys are shocked and afraid. A couple of them even feel guilty, terribly guilty. These aren't like the shooters at Columbine High School. They're not sociopaths, but the point seems to be that too many children consider guns to be like toys. Even assault rifles, real assault rifles, a M-16 and an Uzi, are seen as toys.

The reason that these children see these serious guns as toys is one of many. One could be the video games, which directly equate guns as toys. One could be a lack of parental supervision and instruction, and this film certainly demonstrates that. There are no parents or adults in this movie at all. One could be other cultural influences, including political influences. In one scene, one of the children watches a political debate on television. It could be any one, if not all those possible reasons. The Entin brothers lay it all out there for the viewer to decide.

Lucas Till stars as Tyler, one of the four teenage children who are the main characters here. Till is perhaps the biggest name in the male cast. Till was featured in the three blockbuster films that started with X-Men: First Class.

Joel Courtney (Super 8) stars as David, the younger brother of Tyler. Courtney has a pretty good résumé as a child actor. He may not have been in blockbusters like Till but Courtney is the true standout of this movie. In fact, he's the breakout star whose emotional journey is way more intense.

David is probably between the ages of 14 and 16. He's an aspiring DJ in the Las Vegas suburbs who's hanging out at the arcade with his older brother Tyler who's probably a senior in high school and their two friends, Scott, played by Mitchel Musso (Hannah Montana), and Carlo, played by Bridger Zadina (Terri). Tyler drives all four of them to Tyler and David's home where they break into his father's storage room of guns. They set up reindeer ornaments in the backyard and shoot wildly and crazily at the ornaments.

After the gun violence occurs, there are some things the Entin brothers do right and some things that feel like missteps or oversights. The first indication that maybe the teens are sociopaths is the casual conversation they have over a bloody corpse, the bullet-ridden body of a 10 or 11-year-old. It almost comes across as black comedy akin to a scene from American Psycho (2000), but it's off-putting and incongruous to the rest of the movie.

What seems like a possible, teenage version of The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe or Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky instead is set-up as a trailer-trash version of The Hunger Games (2012). Yet, it's a version that never truly comes to pass, which actually would have made the movie more thrilling. The Entin brothers let the air out of the balloon quickly. They want to wrap the movie fast. They have no desire really to explore their own premise.

The teens jump to The Hunger Games solution without much logical evolution. Scott comes up with the solution out of nowhere. It's so extreme a solution that some build-up to it felt necessary because some obvious solutions that aren't so extreme should have at least been spoken. It's almost as if these boys never saw Breaking Bad. There's not even that much debate between the boys. They all resign to this extreme solution without much resistance.

David is the voice of reason but he too resigns to the extreme solution too easily. Yet, even if we accept that this extreme solution is the only way, we never see them come up with any rules or parameters. If they decide to live out a real-life "shoot 'em up," establishing rules seems like a first step, but no such thing happens. Even if they don't establish rules, one obvious, unspoken rule is not to commit the very crime you're trying to cover-up by committing said crime in a room full of witnesses. There's a moment in the last act of this movie where one character does just that and it's stupid.

Some of the final moments are fine, but the very last moment is questionable. It's essentially a shooting that isn't made clear if it's a suicide or just incidental. It involves David and Joel Courtney gives a great performance, but I was unsure if it were purposeful or accidental on the character's part.

The two women in this movie have potential but the Entin brothers don't do too much with them. Dani Knights who plays Audrey, the girlfriend of Tyler, is given the most screen time of the two women in this movie, but her presence doesn't feel all that essential to the plot. She has a secret that could affect Tyler's actions but she never tells him, which could have added to the stakes and given Tyler more dimension. Ally Sheedy plays Vicky, the mom of Carlo. Her screen time is the least, so she feels even more inconsequential. If she would have been made aware of what was happening, then it would have improved her character's presence as well.

Rated R for violence, drug and alcohol use, language and some sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.

Opens in limited theaters on Dec. 2
Available in VOD / DVD on Dec. 6

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