'Don’t Grow Up': Paris Fantastic Fest Review

Courtesy of Paris International Fantastic Film Festival
More suggestive than scary.

'Goal of the Dead' director Thierry Poiraud makes an English-language horror flick.

A stylish if not entirely suspenseful mashup of Skins and 28 Days Later, French horror-meister Thierry Poiraud’s Don’t Grow Up pits a band of British bad boys and girls against an army of rabid adults out for their blood. It’s a perfectly gory metaphor for the many perils faced by teens as they reach maturity, yet while the execution is slick and the cinematography impressive, the film runs out of steam at the midway point and fails to deliver sufficient chills in the final stretch. A world premiere in London and continental bow at the Paris Fantastic Fest should generate minor buzz with genre junkies, leading to select theatrical rollouts and a strong showing on VOD.

Poiraud directed part two of the underrated soccer-horror diptych, Goal of the Dead, and he brings a similar sense of craft to Marie Garel Weiss’s screenplay, which takes cues from various zombie movies of the last decade and combines them with a rather familiar story of teenage survival. The only major twist can be found in the deadly virus itself, which seems to affect people ages 18 and over – or else, perhaps, anyone who’s had sexual intercourse. In that respect, Don’t Grow Up sometimes brings to mind the indie horror hit It Follows, though it’s both more conventional and, in its second half, lacks the kind of tension one expects from such material.

Set on an isle in the fictional Northlands, the film follows six juvenile delinquents: Bastian (Fergus Riordan), Pearl (Madeleine Kelly), Liam (McKell David), Shawn (Darren Evans), May (Natifa Mai) and Thomas (Diego Mendez), who’ve been locked away in a youth care center for the holidays, with no guardians in sight. Introduced during a series of verite-style therapy sessions, each character is dealing with issues of violence and neglect — especially Bastian, whose traumatizing childhood is seen in flashbacks — underlining the theme of adult abuse that courses through the narrative.

When the gang decides to break out of detention, they find themselves on an island overrun with zombified grownups who have one thing on their minds (or lack of them): kill the kids. The group members gradually get picked off, leaving potential lovebirds Bastian and Pearl to plot an escape that takes them through the desert, then through an apocalyptic town filled with shotgun-wielding tweenagers and ultimately toward the seaside.

Poiraud builds a palpable level of suspense in the film’s early sections, with a few worthy moments of horror — especially a scene where a raging mom strangles her little daughter to death (couldn’t she just give her a time out?). But once the pack heads to the woods, the action more or less fizzles away and what could have been a nail-biting ordeal transforms into a contemplative tale of adolescence in danger.

With somewhat stocky lead characters and dialogue that feels average at best, Don’t Grow Up cannot rely on its group dynamics to keep things interesting once the bloodsuckers disappear, and Poiraud shows more of a knack for staging violence than for delivering a genuine emotional rush. Still, he manages to sustain a creepy and foreboding atmosphere throughout much of the film, using talented DP Matias Boucard (SK1) to capture a breathtaking vista of forests, lakes, cliffs and clouds — an ideal backdrop for such a gloomy teenage survival story, in a place where growing pains can be deadly.

Production companies: Noodles Production, Capture the Flag Films

Cast: Fergus Riordan, Madeleine Kelly, McKell David, Darren Evans, Natifa Mai, Diego Mendez

Director: Thierry Poiraud

Screenwriter: Marie Garel Weiss

Producers: Jerome Vidal, Raphael Rocher, Ibon Cormenzana, Ignasi Estape

Executive producers: Ibon Cormenzana, Angel Durandez, Ignazi Estape

Director of photography: Matias Boucard

Production designer: Mani Martinez

Costume designer: Angelica Munoz

Editor: Stephane Elmadjian

Composers: Jesus Diaz, Fletcher Ventura

Casting director: Luci Lenox

Sales agent: Indie Sales

No rating, 81 minutes