Since the days of James Dean, teen Films have been a sure fire hit with film goers. Teen stories are inherent with drama in every genre imaginable; romance, horror, comedy, musical, sci-fi, fantasy, the list goes on. In Britain a distinctly gritty form of teen film can be recognised; from Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) to Shane Meadows’ This is England (2006) social realism has always been prominent.
Despite the quality of these films, it is easy to feel jaded by many decades’ worth of gritty realism. For this reason, I didn’t think I had anything to learn when I sat down to watch NEDS (a Scottish term meaning Non-Educated Delinquents), directed by Peter Mullen. To my surprise I left the cinema educated anew by this powerful and eloquent film about teen life.
Conor McCarron stars as John McGill, a bright but underprivileged teen whose life slides into gang violence. The story sounds familiar but Mullen’s fresh approach demands our interest. He creates an unusually expressionistic visual style and as John McGill slides further into violence he becomes frighteningly monstrous. As John becomes increasingly alienated from his peers the plot takes a number of turns that we could not expect, including a trippy encounter with Jesus Christ and a showdown in which John becomes more deranged than any slasher film serial killer. Despite this, the true success of the film is that Mullen allows the audience to maintain a sense of compassion for John McGill.
The film concludes by forcing John to confront his past and make a tough decision. Despite his recklessness in the face of the gangs we discover that John still has the capacity to feel fear and therefore redeem himself. More than simply another gritty teen film, NEDS is an articulate parable about a young man’s struggle through the anger and violence of his adolescence to truly find his humanity, fears and compassion included.