Tim Hunter’s film has the supreme misfortune of containing multiple elements which David Lynch did close to the same time and much better. The theme of suburban malfeasance and the Dennis Hopper crazy person performance both were executed far better in the same year’s Blue Velvet. The teenage melodrama and female corpse near a body of water aspects were both done with far more style, wit, and competence on Lynch’s television project Twin Peaks. This film is an unfortunately dated relic; references in the dialogue to the Cold War and the two-dimensional hippie teacher character firmly place this in the mid-1980s.
However that isn’t meant as an indication this is just a movie that aged poorly. There are fundamental flaws and the whole thing is severely underdeveloped. The back of the DVD case of my copy claims it was directed from the script’s first draft as though this were some sort of grand achievement as opposed to a sign of laziness. The fact it was a first draft shows. The major narrative hook of the children’s lack of emotional response to their friend’s murder is repeatedly pointed out in the dialogue by characters the film seems to introduce solely so that they can point this out. A neon sign repeatedly flashing “The youth in this film are alarmingly apathetic” might’ve gotten the point home with a bit more subtlety. All the characters besides Crispin Glover’s Layne and Dennis Hopper’s Feck are extremely underdeveloped and rather boring to watch. Though the actors do their best, a weak script is a weak script. Glover nearly saves the whole thing through the sheer force of his bizarre and daring performance but in the end one man’s acting isn’t enough.
Hunter is also very awkward with his cutting and use of sound. Music is employed to heighten tension but almost always pushes the scenes into absurdity. His use of fades make the film seem like after school alarmist TV specials of the time. And the use of 50s rock n’ roll in attempts to draw parallels between this and 1950s portrayals of troubled youth like Rebel Without a Cause seem too much like self-conscious posturing and further damages the credibility of the film. That Hunter ended up leaving features soon after this for TV directing is highly appropriate.
The performances are good and for Glover fans this is a must, but don’t expect anything that deep or insightful from this alarmist time capsule.