The challenge with “genre fiction” is how to to blend the recognizable tropes, the cliches even, with new and exciting elements. Take Don’t Grow Up, the latest film from director Thierry Pouiard.
Opening at a mysterious youth facility amidst a misty forest of dark evergreens, six troubled teens find themselves abandoned and alone. After breaking into their counselor’s office and going through the filing cabinet, as well as polishing off his liquor, they decide to take a trip into town. Big mistake.
You see, all the grownups have gone mad — symptoms: grey eyes, bleeding ears, and psychotic rage — leaving them with no choice but to try and return to the mainland. However, what starts as an adolescent 28 Days Later slowly shifts into a study of what it means to be an adulthood. It’s a suitably awkward transition.
Eighteen year-old Fergus Riordan (AKA the little kid in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) and newcomer Madeleine Kelly bear a striking resemblance to Brenton Thwaites and Mia Wasikowska respectively, and the youthful cast are all effective in their limited roles — the cocky one, the dweeby one, the gaunt one — but they’re just fodder for the film’s particular brand of not-zombies.
Striking images of a young girl wailing and covered in blood, or a zombified cop dragging himself across broken glass, can’t compensate for the underdeveloped themes which are forced to the fore in the Don’t Grow Up’s second half.
The script feels like an art-house film that’s sold out or else an adolescent zombie film playing dress up — Pouiard previously directed Goal of the Dead. Don’t Grow Up falls between two poles, critical and commercial, and ends up lost in the wilderness — which is, again, perhaps apt.