Bleak clarity

Rollercoaster's mesmerizing ride


An accomplished first feature from Vancouver director Scott Smith, Rollercoaster pulls no punches and offers no pat answers. It takes a clear-eyed look at five troubled youth, each pursuing a fantasy escape from their miserable reality.

The teens in this idie Canadian film don’t talk like therapists, although they certainly know what all the psychobabble means. And they don’t hump baked goods – they hump each other for reasons less to do with love than with emotional necessity.

Stealing a car from the group home in which they live and breaking into an abandoned amusement park (Vancouver’s PNE grounds), Darrin, his girlfriend Chloe, best friend Stick, group clown Sanji and Darrin’s kid brother Justin set about enjoying a day of booze, drugs and fun.

But this adventure has a darker purpose. When night falls Darrin and Chloe will fulfill their pact to commit suicide by jumping from the top of the park’s Rollercoaster. Tensions between the friends escalate and the appearance of Ben, an oddly helpful security guard, precipitates an encounter that forces Stick (played by Brendan Fletcher, most recently seen in Jeremy Podeswa’s The Five Senses) to face his homosexuality.

Smith, who also wrote and co-produced the film, says Rollercoaster was inspired by his fascination with teen suicide pacts and by the fact that suicide is one of the leading killers of youth in North America (especially queer youth).

He handles this delicate subject matter with clarity and honesty, refusing to sidestep the appeal that suicide has for his characters, and avoiding the knee-jerk preachiness of Hollywood “issue movies.” Predominantly shot using hand-held cameras, Smith is ably assisted by a mostly unknown cast who bring to their roles an edgy authenticity that hints at their characters’ troubled pasts while avoiding any plea for audience sympathy.

Despite some slow patches and the use of the now-seriously un-hip toy Tamagotchi as a plot device, the script is sharp and accurate, perfectly capturing the indirect way teenagers reveal their emotions.

It’s through the character of Stick however, that Smith’s skills as a writer shine. With just one line of dialogue he captures all of Stick’s pent-up confusion and anger about being gay while at the same time making the simple, yet important, distinction that Ben the security guard is a paedophile, not gay.

Brendan Fletcher’s transformation of Stick from obnoxious wise-ass through his abrupt sexual awakening to thoughtful acceptance of himself is mesmerizing and insightful and marks Fletcher as one of Canada’s most talented young actors.

While Rollercoaster should be required viewing for all teenagers, the film also delivers a timely wake-up call to adults about the world in which we live and the way our youth are treated.

Rollercoaster opens Fri, Nov 3.

 

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Culture, TV & Film, Arts, Toronto

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