It is not enough to merely be influenced by a work of art; an artist must find a way to incorporate this work and its impact on themselves into their own artistic statement. Without that, an audience is left with someone’s regurgitation of an 8th grade English assignment. The press release for the new film Go North describes it as a “a modern-day Lord of the Flies” but it lacks the commentary, nuance, and complex relationships of that elementary text.
Go North concerns itself with the life of teens Josh (Jacob Lofland) and Jessie (Sophie Kennedy Clark), survivors of a mysterious cataclysm that resulted in the collapse of society and the disappearance of adults. They attend a make-shift school of about 50 kids of various ages ruled over by Jessie’s brother Caleb (Patrick Schwarzenegger) and his cabal of jocks in letter jackets. The 15-minute introductory sequence, overlong and light on character/momentum, is dedicated to introducing viewers to this world, the rules it operates under, and the punishment for children who break the rules. The rules are of the basic “ape not kill ape” variety, and they even include a “no religion” clause that the movie lightly touches on for the purposes of a plot point later on but seems disinterested in actually investigating even as the zealotry of the persecutors offers a clear parallel waiting to be utilized.
The film meanders for about 20 minutes until Josh’s interference in the sexual assault of Jessie finally gives him a reason to talk to her after ogling her in previous scenes. It’s disappointing and disgusting to see a modern movie use the sexual assault of a female character solely as the inciting incident for the male lead’s relationship with her. You can immediately tell without having to look that this is a movie written (Kyle Lierman & Matt Ogens) and directed (Ogens) by men. This happens five minutes before the barest of plots begins to surface with Josh telling Jessie that he sees signs of winter coming early and suggesting that they should travel north if they want to survive it. All it takes is her brother’s right-hand man Gentry (James Bloor), the boy who assaulted her, threatening her with another assault for Jessie to pack her bag and hit the road with Josh. It is understandable if a viewer, having grown bored and disgusted by 25 minutes of aimlessness punctuated by the sexual assault of a young woman, has turned the movie off before this plot has been introduced.
And that’s the movie. Josh and Jessie go north for nebulous reasons that aren’t really established until half of the film’s running time has expired. Even then, there’s never a real indication of what they’re hoping to find, where they’re looking for it, or why any of this matters. The film is vacant. The direction is fine with camera movements framing scenes in interesting enough ways to keep a mild level of engagement during the listless proceedings, but it’s hard to ignore that the film’s entire visual language and the structure of its sporadic pre-cataclysm flashbacks are all cribbed from the popular video game The Last of Us. If a viewer has played that game then they’re likely to come away from this movie finding it to be little more than an overlong fan-film more interested in the empty recreation of aesthetics than the exploration of the work’s moral concerns.
Ultimately, that’s all this movie is: empty recreation. We have a loose Lord of the Flies plot filtered through The Last of Us’ aesthetic that is so creatively bankrupt that it relies on sexual assault as a plot motivator (with more concern for how it impacts the male character who interrupts it than the woman who was assaulted) and even throws in a mysterious, gun-wielding “magical negro” to give the wimpy lead a pep talk and hand him a pistol. By the time credits roll, there is only the silence of a film with nothing to say.
Go North is now in select theatres and also available on iTunes.