EmptyMMG/EFP New York Industry Screenings
NEW YORK -- "Ben X" is a strong-minded debut from Belgian director Nic Balthazar, who ambitiously takes on three difficult themes -- schoolroom bullying, autism and the influence of computer games on those who play them.
Balthazar does a fine job at weaving these together to make a salient point about how online gamers can find confidence and self-belief through their hobby. "Ben X" is only let down by a feel-good ending that seems superfluous. More festival exposure is a strong possibility, and its courageous take on social issues should lead to TV sales.
The story, which is based on fact, centers on Ben (Greg Timmerman), an autistic teenager who is bullied at school. His condition makes forging social ties difficult, so he immerses himself in an online game called "Archlord." In this virtual reality, he acts heroically. When the bullying reaches an unbearable level, Ben tries to use the lessons he has learned about courage online in the real world.
"Ben X" works very well as a character study that concentrates on social and psychological issues. Timmerman puts in a convincing performance as the introverted youth and is helped by the director's decision to avoid sentimentality. There's a rawness to the story that makes it engrossing. But the ending damages the movie's credibility. Balthazar's determination to draw a positive message from a negative situation doesn't quite fit.
The way the computer game "Archlord" -- a real online game -- is integrated into the visuals is impressive. The film never jars when Ben morphs into his online character.