Longer version of piece published by Sight & Sound as part of coverage of the Cult programme at the London Film Festival 2015
“My future? I dunno.”
Although it starts and ends with video testimonies from a group of young adults about their interdependence and prospects, Thierry Poiraud’s Don’t Grow Up is no documentary, instead locating its coming-of-age anxieties in an ill-defined space between genre and poetry. The geographical setting, too, is vague: an island with misty woodlands, a spectacular coastline, rocky deserts and urban highrise – but where everyone speaks English (with a mix of UK accents), while a police uniform appears to be American. In fact a Franco-Spanish co-production shot in Tenerife, Don’t Grow Up offers a dislocated, abstract playground in which its teenaged characters can work through the same issues that they address in their filmed interviews.
The narrative’s beginning coincides with the 18th birthday of May (Natifa Mai), whose impending departure from a care facility has all her peers pondering the grown-up world that awaits them out there. Yet here adulthood is measured in something that cannot be quantified in mere years, and as these teenagers venture out unsupervised into the hostile environs beyond their dormitory, some of their own number are already showing signs of irreversible change. This transformation assumes the complexion of horror – for, as in Poiraud’s earlier Goal of the Dead (2014), a viral outbreak is turning those afflicted into zombie-like aggressors. Yet the immunity of children from infection brings to this particular strain the mutation of metaphor, so that Don’t Grow Up becomes a kind of inverted Who Can Kill A Child? (1976), with resonant themes of childhood arrested, adulthood imposed, and futures foreshortened.