Trauma doesn’t visit youth lightly. It takes advantage, sinking its teeth deeply into unblunted sensitivities, unknitted wounds, and unexpected realities. The pain is more than just raw; it’s unwieldy, an emotional artifact of such size and shape that untested arms struggle to wrap around it. For the first twenty-five minutes of Make-Out with Violence, that sensation is evoked so tangibly that I was transported, floating on a lazy river of adolescent longing and dread. Those opening scenes –bathed in the gold and crimson of perpetual sunset– capture and embellish feelings so dark and painful that they can only be properly viewed through the dreamy haze of lost summer afternoons.
Here is the story of a grieving town, coming to grips with the disappearance (and assumed demise) of seventeen year-old Wendy, a girl whose natural magnetism and vitality made her the center of a tangled web of relationships and fantasies. When she is discovered by her friends (three brothers: Patrick, Carol, and little Beetle) in a state that could be charitably described as “not entirely dead”, the simply tragic becomes tragically complicated. Secrets mount, mysteries deepen, and time continues its relentless march.
Everyone in MOWV is on a clock, one that is counting down to things they can scarcely perceive, much less understand. The resolution of death, of loss, and of growth is just out of reach, tantalizingly glimpsed in the periphery of childhood’s vision, seemingly as unobtainable as it is inevitable. Everything that has ever appeared solid and stable is being left behind, but some parts of the past are reluctant to be left. When the creaky, twitching, feeble corpse of abandoned love appears, it seems more a relief than a nightmare. What do you do with a memory that won’t die? The boys answer that question with a collective action derived from their diverse motivations, which run the gamut from childish wonder, to oddly truncated curiosity, to a deeply creepy, self-absorbed sadomasochism.
The film as a whole doesn’t hang together as it ambles toward its conclusion. Like its amateur actors, it struggles on occasion to hold on to emotions, and like its central character, lurches about spasmodically, without ever actually going far. By the end, everything and nothing has changed, just as everything and nothing has been learned. Those who are dead at the beginning (visibly or otherwise) remain so as the credits roll. Agonizing turmoil and gently understated moments of joy have been experienced, but it’s unclear if the characters involved are capable of reflecting on those experiences. The result is a story that feels intensely honest, but unsure of what it’s being honest about.
Which is kind of a perfect description of teen angst, when you stop to think about it.