More noise than signal

Ben X

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

So there’s this kid in Belgium, Ben (Greg Timmermans), who spends most of his free time retreating into one of those World of Warcrafty MMORPG computer game thingys. Well, he is in Belgium after all. Who can blame him for escaping? If you don’t know what a MMORPG is, count your blessings and long may you carry on with your life without learning that bit of geek trivia. At any rate, Ben spends much of his life in a virtual world because the real one is being something of a dick to him.

Chief amongst the dickery are Bogaert (Titus De Voogdt) and Desmedt (Maarten Claeyssens), two bullies who remorselessly torment Ben due to what seems at first to be extreme social ineptitude but turns out, after a series of largely needless flashbacks, to be Asberger’s syndrome. Quite why writer / director / Grand Vizer of Arabia Nic Balthazar decides to bury this fact is something of a mystery, as knowing this upfront may perhaps have softened the initial perception of Ben as a clueless berk.

To cut a story mercifully short, Ben is bullied to the point of suicide, despite the efforts of online best chum Scarlite (Laura Verlinden) to cheer him up in both reality and in Ben’s increasingly frequent fantasies, and decides to act on it, but it’s all a scam. The End. Of course reducing any film’s plot to one sentence tends to make it sound somewhat rubbish, but the worrying thing seems to be how little has been left out by this.

Quite what this is supposed to be saying, I’m not entirely sure. Bullying is bad? Who knew? This surprisingly uninsightful insight aside, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for this film to exist, and seems to reduce to lots of shots of Timmermans wandering around with his shoulders hunched looking both worried and substantially older than seems appropriate for the school he’s supposed to be at.

The same issue goes for his tormentors, who display behaviour characteristics that everyone in my experience grew out of at around half the age of what these guys seem to be. At times it seems more like a Monty Python sketch than a harrowing drama, but Belgium is a foreign country, after all. Perhaps they do things differently over there.

It’s not a poorly put together film, by any means. Balthazar keeps things moving well enough and his cutaways to interviews with Ben’s parents and teachers imply a pseudo-documentarian feel to the piece which adds some degree of gravitas to the film that the actors themselves fail to. Ben’s habit of recasting scenes unfolding around him in real life with analogues from the game world prove to be a mildly interesting visual device to hang the film around and less irritating than it initially appears, but this is largely woodchips and polyfiller around the gaping hole in the film.

Ben’s story simply isn’t very interesting. There’s a five minute scene in Somers Town that deals with kids bullying other kids far more effectively than in the entirety of this film. Autism is rather unfortunate and all, and being bullied because of it is tragic, however as the film takes pains to point out in its conclusion it’s simply not noteworthy enough in and of itself to engender caring in most audiences, and any technique you care to mention isn’t going to help that. All in all, utterly avoidable.

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