Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
The protagonist of Young Bodies Heal Quickly, a tight-lipped and blistering first feature by writer-director Andrew T. Betzer, first appears jumping a barbed-wire fence, the wrestler’s helmet on his head suggesting he’s busted out of some institutional rubber-room. Things escalate quickly from here: It’s not five minutes into Young Bodies before some BB-gun fire leads to a wrestling match, which in turn leads to the accidental death of an ATV joyrider, and a mother (Sandra L. Hale) is packing off her two sons, the young adult (Gabriel Croft) and his 10-year-old brother (Hale Lytle), on a road-trip getaway down the Maryland coast.
Betzer’s film, which goes light on dialogue and even lighter on backstory, is a little uneven, the quality of its outdoor photography (by 16mm ace Sean Price Williams) not always matched by that of its performances (though, thankfully, Croft is an interesting presence, built like a young Vincent D’Onofrio, his voice stalled in late adolescence). Young Bodies is nonetheless a highly distinctive film about recklessness, resilience, and fractured-family relations. And it rivals the more celebrated Buzzard, another lo-fi regionalist indie that hit theaters in the first quarter of 2015, as a ne’er-do-well character study. Like Buzzard’s scam-running temp Marty Jackitansky, “Older,” as he’s called in the credits, evidently wants to lay waste to a world that’s all but written him off. He pulverizes the chassis of a broken-down car, lights off flare after flare on a beach, and speeds his own sedan right into a ditch, all for no apparent reason.
In particular, the fugitive has it out for his family, the only people he can turn to in the first place. At every pit stop on the brothers’ unhurried journey (the law is nowhere in evidence), Older makes sure to wear out his welcome as quickly as possible. He sets his twin sister (micro-indie mainstay Kate Lyn Sheil) off with an air horn, and gets his palm sliced open during a fight over an Ocean City maid (French actress Julie Sokolowski). The boys stick around longer with their father (Daniel P. Jones), an Australian itinerant who hawks Holocaust memorabilia online, but there’s nonetheless plenty of intrafamilial sparring—a heated argument over whether crabs swim, for instance, as well as a more primal face-off during a Vietnam War reenactment deep in the woods.
“There was no one to welcome me home,” goes an occasional refrain on the soundtrack, an old lament sung by Uncle Dave Macon, probably as forthright as Betzer gets about the internal wounds that lead Older to lash out. Young Bodies’ approach might be sidelong, its action particularly anarchic, but the movie nonetheless gathers a plaintive power all its own. Beat a windshield with a baseball bat and it’ll crack, hit a crab shell with a mallet and it’ll shatter, but a family can never come apart so cleanly.
Availability: Young Bodies Heal Quickly is available to rent or purchase digitally through Amazon Instant Video.