'Teen Lust': Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Keep out of Winnipeg

Cary Elwes is a Satanist cult leader who plans to sacrifice Jesse Carere's virginal flesh -- unless he manages to have sex first

TORONTO -- Losing his virginity is a more pressing matter for the Canadian protagonist of Teen Lust than for most adolescent boys, which is saying something. But then again, who can claim that their parents are worshippers of Satan who want to sacrifice their own son on his 18th birthday, a fate that can only be avoided if he pops his cherry before sunrise? Clearly taking place in a parallel version of Winnipeg, where high school-movie clichés and devil worshipping seem to have formed an unholy alliance, the fourth film from writer-director Blaine Thurier, one of the members of Canadian indie band The New Pornographers, is uneven as a straightforward comedy and never pointed enough as a send-up of religion or sexuality. Nonetheless, with marketable names such as True Blood’s Kristin Bauer van Straten and Saw’s Cary Elwes in supporting roles, rainy Saturday-afternoon rotation on VOD is a given. 

Innocent and cute student Neil (Jesse Carere, Skins) has routinely promised to stay a virgin as part of his religious education, though at school his hormones at least give his eyes a serious workout each time a babe or hot teacher passes by. He’s preparing for a special ceremony at his “Church,” led by Satanist extraordinaire John (Elwes) and his wife, Mary (van Straten), though his extremely devout parents (Emmanuelle Vaugier, Jon Dore) haven’t told him to which extent the ceremony will be extraordinary, as his exactly 18-year-old virgin flesh will be offered to Beelzebub to avoid a reign of 1000 years of peace on earth (“We wouldn’t want that, now?” John intones to Neil’s worryingly devoted parents).

When this not unimportant detail becomes clear for Neil, he runs for it with his buddy (and fellow Satanist-in-training) Matt (Daryl Sabara) and it doesn’t take long for them to realize that the easiest way to avoid death for Neil is to simply to get him laid, since a non-virgin sacrifice is, of course, useless. This sends the duo on a nightly trip through town, with several Satanists on their tail, as they try to find a woman who’ll agree to do Neil so he can save his skin.

The premise is of course as loopy as it is ludicrous, a more extreme variation on a very familiar theme. But Thurier, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jason Stone (who wrote the original short on which apocalyptic comedy This Is the End is based) doesn’t manage to make the film work as satire because he’s clearly too enamored of the countless clichés the genre requires, from being perceived to be masturbating in the janitor’s closet or having a female nerdy-but-cute best friend (Annie Clark) to ending up trying prostitutes and negotiating awkward same-sex situations.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if it weren’t for the film’s many religiously motivated actions and elaborately staged ceremonies, which are too out-there and ridiculous to be taken at face value but at the same time don’t offer any kind of insight in organized religion or a clever and biting send-up of the same, a la Saved! Since the whole devil-worshipping angle doesn’t seem to serve any particular purpose other than being something extreme, its inclusion simply feels weird.

Comedies can of course accommodate a little weird but you also need funny, of which Teen Lust -- is that the best title they could come up with? -- has some but not nearly enough, with the material containing more chuckles than laugh-out-loud moments and more than a few pumping pop-song montages needed to keep the momentum from sagging.

Thankfully, Carere is at least a charismatic performer. He's got good timing, handles the physical comedy with aplomb and his putty-like face more than occasionally makes him look like a comic-book character, though he can also be straightforwardly sweet and sincere when required. He’s also got great chemistry with Sabara (from the Spy Kids films) as his trusted sidekick-slash-fellow outcast Matt, who is, of course, also a virgin. The supporting roles, led by a greasy-haired Elwes in another finger-licking over-the-top performance, are well cast, though notably in a register that’s pitched higher than the adolescent leads.

Most of the production values are professional but otherwise unimaginative, though as could be expect, the music choices and score are standouts.

Production companies: Independent Edge Films, Farpoint Films

Cast: Jesse Carere, Daryl Sabara, Annie Clack, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Cary Elwes, Jon Dore, Emmanuelle Vaugier

Director: Blaine Thurier

Screenplay: Blaine Thurier, Jason Stone

Producer: Kyle Mann

Executive producers: Kyle Bornais, Jeff Sackman, David Reckziegel, Anne-Claire Villeneuve, Scott Leary

Director of photography: James Liston

Production designer: Gordon Wilding

Costume designer:  Meg McMillan

Editor: Mark Shearer

Music: Kathryn Calder

Sales: Arclight Films, TAJJ Media

 

No rating, 80 minutes

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