Written and directed by Tony Radevski, a young teen struggles to navigate the floating drug world of the west, haunted by a familial past and an unknown future. A lone wolf comes to his defence, but it will take more than friendship to survive. Starring: Zen McGrath, Bernie Van Tiel, Olivia Pigeot and Joe Zappia.
Risen starts out on strong footing, giving a snapshot view into the superb choices from Tony Radevski which continue throughout the film. First and foremost is making simple but effective choices which avoid the story and visual becoming convoluted. It applies both to the use of effects, which are minimal as they can be and extremely well done, and the story which is compelling and not overly complicated. There’s a satisfying balance of that simplicity with a layered emotion, the dialogue is minimal but the conflict, trauma and struggle are clear.
Exploring this type of dystopian, sci-fi yet not too far removed from today story and centring it around teen characters is a nice change of pace. It helps the story bring that emotion through more succinctly; the gradual destruction of their naivety but holding onto the last inkling of it. You’d expect these characters, like in many previous examples, to be feral, violent and unyielding but in this case they hold onto an empathy and youthful spirit. As the story progresses, it adds different elements to draw you in further, a touch of mystery to this unusual world they live in, and an edge of darkness to the violence that bleeds into their daily existence and survival. The latter is nicely subtle, another example of how Radevski uses different elements in a minimal and highly effective manner.
The overall quality of the cinematography and aesthetic is impressive, it’s sharp and rich. It doesn’t lean too far into the dystopian elements or try to bring through a larger grit. It still has a great use of natural colour, especially with almost all of it taking place outdoors. It merges together classic suburban imagery with its deteriorating world, not yet having reached the wealthier inhabitants. Its framing is another aspect which furthers its story, added to well chosen locations, it creates a completely different setting which is utterly convincing without having to change much to the surroundings. It’s also a strong example of using a non-linear timeline, it can often result in something messy and confusing but here it’s well done to evolve its characters. Then there’s a heavy use of handheld, and often shaky shots which lean into the chaotic side of its atmosphere without having to create something overwhelming.
Using that minimally styled dialogue with a lot of very young characters only makes it more impressive how well the actors do. Zen McGrath and Bernie Van Tiel create a sympathetic and connected feel to their characters easily. There’s a classic struggle of one taking the other under their wing, wanting to care for them but also knowing that in their world, you have to look out for number one. A lot of the focus lands on McGrath’s Sean as he grapples with this harsh world, leaving him to decide whether he can sink into the darkness or reject it but risk his survival. It’s a quietly engaging transition, he’s a hugely relatable and kind character, clearly not quite suited for such a bleak world but at his young age, that can change.
Risen mixes sci-fi with childhood trauma to create a compelling and entertaining story. It’s shot very well and makes effective choices to drive the story where it needs to go. The effects are high quality, accenting the plot, rather than taking over it, there’s a simplicity to it but it has a surprising amount of emotion. Zen McGrath and Bernie Van Tiel lead the film extremely well, they bring forth a blend of holding onto youth and gradually being hardened by an unforgiving world.