Tag Archives: dead teenagers

Spontaneous

Spontaneous combustion is a cool concept unless you’re the one suffering from it. Unfortunately, the reality is pretty disappointing – it’s probably mostly obese, alcoholic women who fall asleep while smoking. Not exactly “spontaneous” but between the fat and the alcohol in their blood, they go up like wicks.

Spontaneous is not about spontaneous combustion, it’s about spontaneous explosion, which is even more dramatic. Mara (Katherine Langford), a senior in high school, is just minding her own business in class one day when the student sitting in front of her goes boom. She just…pops, like a water balloon full of blood. So that’s weird. And it gets weirder; the next time it happens, and it does happen again, and again, it attracts the attention of the media and the government, and Mara’s whole graduating class gets quarantined while the CDC tries to work out a cure.

Of course, teenagers + mortality + hormones = hella humping. Living each day like it could be their last (because it really could), Dylan (Charlie Plummer) gets the courage up to tell Mara how he feels – how he’s been feeling for the last two years. Crush reciprocated, Mara and Dylan are instantly an item, but their hot and heavy romance is constantly interrupted by another teenage eruption. Er, I regret that turn of phrase. But the kids just keep detonating like flesh bombs, painting the walls (and the bystanders) red.

The movie is cheekier than I’d expected, funny in a dark way, with a clever script adapted by director Brian Duffield from Aaron Starmer’s novel. It’s a horror movie – teenage romance – satirical comedy hybrid that just kind of works in a weird and refreshingly unique way with a pretty sick twist.

Langford is magnetically pretty of course, but away from 13 Reasons Why, she proves herself talented, delivering a surprisingly and appropriately low-key performance, the anchor in a pretty tumultuous storm. Duffield is a first time director but a serious talent. Spontaneous isn’t a perfect movie but it takes risks that pay off. It’s absurd, it’s electric, and if you feel something wet at your eye, it’s just as likely to be blood spatter as tears. Not all of these kids are going to make it to the end. Some will get to grow up, others will simply blow up, but either way, you’ll be sickly and slickly entertained.

The Honor List

Once upon a time, four girls were best friends in high school. Like many young friendships, these four grew apart, drifting in different directions by senior year. But only 3 of them make it to graduation. Honor (Arden Cho) dies of an illness she kept from them, and leaves behind final wishes that they should retrieve the time capsule they once buried together and complete the bucket list found inside.

Piper (Meghan Rienks) is a popular girl (translation: mean girl) now, a party girl for whom the party never stops thanks to a water bottle filled with vodka that’s never not in hand. Isabella (Sasha Pieterse) is a social crusader, fierce in her beliefs, but vulnerable at home where her parents are divorcing acrimoniously. Sophie (Karrueche Tran) is the image of perfection, a straight A student and president of the virginity club, which she founded herself (and named only slightly more creatively). Even before we get to know their history through flashbacks, there are some pretty solid reasons why these young women might have grown apart. But grief is a powerful motivator and they resolve to complete the list, for better or worse.

High school is hard enough without throwing grief and guilt into the mix, and the movie is at its best when it’s dealing with these realities subtly with great character work from a cast who is actually (surprisingly) competent. But the tasks on the bucket list are wacky enough to be sitcom material, awkwardly ripe for trauma, painfully devoid of laughs. Their friendship is to be miraculously repaired through hardship even though it can equally be said that that’s what ripped it apart in the first place. Director Elissa Down confronts some jarring shifts in tone without enough of a plan, so even her good intentions can be sloppily offered.

The Honor List doesn’t live up to its name but is just watchable enough if you’re really jonesing for a potential tearjerker with a subplot of empowerment.

Five Feet Apart

Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Poe (Moises Arias) are friends, roommates and teenagers who’ve known each other since they were kids. They’ve been through a lot together and their bond is undeniable. When a third wheel, Will (Cole Sprouse), moves into the building, things begin to change.

Also worth noting: Stella, Poe, and Will are all CF patients, and the building in which they live is of course a hospital. They’re all living in the same ward but because of their disease, they aren’t allowed to come any closer to each other than 6 feet. Which puts a real damper on the budding romance between Stella and Will. Of course , the looming specter of their mortality is also boner-softening, I’d imagine.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a fatal genetic disease for which there is no cure. It affects mostly the digestive system and the lungs. It’s the progressive lung damage from chronic infection that usually gets them in the end. Average life expectancy is almost but not quite middle age.

So here is another entry in the dead or dying teenager trope, which is weirdly having a moment. Or maybe it’s always having a moment. Teenagers like to really heighten the stakes. These teenagers know their limits and why they exist, not that it makes it any easier to follow them. They’re not trying to endanger their lives, but they are trying to live them. A warrior nurse named Barb (Kimberly H├ębert Gregory) will do everything she can to keep them going, and sometimes that pits her against them. I thought constantly about how hard that must be for her. She’s the one caring for them day in and day out, likely for years, and definitely for weeks and months at a time. She has more contact with them than any friends or family. But it’s not her job to match-make, or to chaperone dates. It’s to keep them alive another day.

CF patients may find it hard to fall in love. Their time outside hospitals is limited. Their time on earth is limited. But love between CF patients can’t happen at all because they must never, ever touch. Teenagers may find forbidden love irresistible, but this is a whole other level.