Another week, another group of teens facing nightmarish pseudo-apocalyptic scenarios. Mob rule? Trolls referred to only as goblins? This week, the worst horror anyone will encounter is the inner self. More specifically, the inner self very literally and suddenly becoming external.
Drifting off during an especially dull class lecture, senior Mara Carlyle is in for a rude awakening when a classmate explodes before her very eyes. Not in the metaphorical sense; the girl sitting before her is human-shaped in one moment, a mere spatter of blood and guts the next.
After the incident, all of the students are rounded up for questioning and observation. Unbeknownst to Mara, her dry remark that the authorities are waiting for a similar accident to happen again is extremely prescient. Not only that, but her words act as a spark for her classmates to live life to the fullest as they face the dread of wondering who may be next.
Following the explosion, Mara navigates her feelings (badly) with bff Tess–making sarcastic cracks at various tributes to their classmate, lacing her coffee with a nausea-inducing amount of shrooms. While Mara decides seizing the day means making self-destructive decisions, classmate Dylan determines now could be the only opportunity to reveal his long-term crush on her. Holding back Mara’s hair while she throws up, their romance is off to a…dreamy(?) start.
As Mara gets to know Dylan better, the unexpected explosions of their classmates seem to happen everywhere they go, from football games to parties. While school is cancelled, Dylan buys a vintage milk truck with his college savings and he officially becomes Mara’s boyfriend.
However, the explosions escalate, prompting the government to intervene by developing a new drug to cure the so-called Covington Curse. After weeks in a pop-up biomedical research facility, the cure seems to be available at last: a pill that all of the teens seem to be destined to take for the rest of their lives.
It might be a nice conclusion for our main characters if things ended here, no? Sadly, the new pill isn’t quite as effective as promised, and it’s not long before another series of explosions rock the community.
How many more teens will blow up before they even make it to graduation?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I’ve kept things vague as there are a number of important plot twists/tonal shifts (which you could easily look up) that I’m reluctant to dish on here. I can’t say they’re entirely unexpected, but they may not be where you imagine the film to go when you first dive in.
I like the premise here a lot, and the approach the film takes to examining the impact of the explosions rather than trying to unpack a reason why lends it some realism. I appreciate that we don’t get a satisfactory explanation for the explosions, though they could stand in for any number of existential issues teens struggle with as they try to imagine a future that’s not utterly terrifying. It’s powerful as well that so many of the teens blame themselves for these events that are beyond their control.
Mara’s sarcastic eye-rolling is immediately relatable, and she is very darkly funny. Her observations about the choice of “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” to memorialize a classmate, as well as the dramatic peeling away of part of a stick figure family member car decal stand out most to me. However, after a while, Mara seems to be written as a character who is not especially feminist; she’s meant to be a cool girl who’s so chill that she would never stoop to calling you out for a “your mom” joke. There are a number of attitudes/lines of dialogue that seem written for a teen boy, or at the very least someone who claims to be a humanist rather than a feminist.
Overall, the characterization isn’t a strength of this film. The supporting characters are completely flat; it drives me nuts that Tess isn’t given anything to do except be the best friend who is immediately sidelined for a romantic plot (and the romance is a major focus of the film). There are some additional layers to unpack there considering Tess is the only person of color who gets a significant amount of screen time. And Dylan is a total sweetheart, but it’s irritating that he’s written to be a character who has absolutely no flaws. I’m automatically suspicious of a dude who seems perfect from the beginning.
There are some issues with tone here too, as the story struggles to blend Mara’s cynical sarcasm, the romance of first love, and the existential horror of living through disaster. It’s surprisingly poignant as things wrap up, but it doesn’t quite bring the different elements together smoothly.
That being said, I did enjoy this one quite a lot…and I’m never going to be mad about watching a film that on multiple occasions tells our most recent former US president to fuck off.