“Young Ones” mixes sci fi, dystopia and some young stars but unlike recent stories told in a similar vein there are no sorting ceremonies, or mazes or Hunger Games. Instead it’s a futuristic tale about the simple stuff—land, water and power.
Set in the near, dusty future. Water has become the world’s most precious commodity, a resource worth killing for. When we first meet Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) that’s exactly what he’s doing. He guns down two bandits who try and access his well, the well he uses to hydrate his son and daughter, Jerome (Kodi Smit McPhee) and Mary (Elle Fanning). They lead a rough frontier life, which could be improved by the pipeline construction bigwig Caleb (Robert Hobbs) is building. In an effort to grab Ernest’s land, Mary’s power hungry boyfriend Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult) helps divert the pipeline, but his assistance comes with a heavy price.
“Young Ones” is divided into three chapters, detailing Ernst’s struggles, Flem’s rise and Jerome’s reckoning. It’s primal stuff, stylishly shot and featuring good performances, particularly from Shannon whose battle with his inner demons is vivid and the most interesting part of the film, but is let down by a weak story. “Chinatown,” the great cinematic water war movie, never let the story get in the way of the characters or vice versa, but “Young Ones” takes an interesting premise that could possess great, almost Shakespearean characters fighting over the most necessary of all human needs and muddles the two so that both fall flat.
It’s an ambitious attempt at redefining what has become of the dystopian genre, but despite some good work from Shannon it’s a bland, bone dry movie.