Note: Don't forget to check out my exclusive, one-on-one interview with Tommy Faircloth.
"Generation Ax," writer-director Tommy Faircloth's sophomore filmmaking effort, lacks much of the memorable dialogue and despicable characters that made 1995's "Crinoline Head" such an entertaining, absurdist horror-comedy. In the place of these things, however, is a more technically proficient and intimate movie that, once again, proves what kind of talent Faircloth has as a director. Overall, "Generation Ax" may not be as purely fun as his debut film, "Crinoline Head," but it has infinitely more to say, and does it by skewering such high school issues as cliques, friends, and teenage pressure, with a hard-edged, biting honesty that often times is very funny.
17-year-olds Blair Deal (Marina Morgan) and Leslie Gorden (Jennifer Peluso) have been best friends for years. Always standing just outside the popular circle at their high school, and perfectly happy with their stance, Blair is surprised and a little confused by Leslie's sudden determination to get chosen to be on the cheerleading squad. Because Blair would do anything to make Leslie happy, and because her psyche is just a little unstable, she decides to murder the one person standing in her way to becoming a cheerleader--the giddy, more-popular Trix Beasly (Amy Swaim).
With Trix out of the picture and Leslie suddenly hanging out with her fellow "Beavers," Blair meets new-boy-in-town Todd Major (Brian Kelly) at an underground rave, and falls in love. It clearly was fate that brings them together, as Todd has the very same penchant as Blair for killing anyone who gets in his way, or on his nerves. What escalates between these two star-crossed lovers is a bloodbath that leaves anyone who gets under their skin dead.
Filmed before 1999's high school satire, "Jawbreaker," but evoking many of the same themes and plot devices, "Generation Ax" is an involving, low-budget, pitch-black horror-comedy. While not one of the main characters even remotely looks young enough to be in high school, the actors are well-cast and attractive. Marina Morgan (HBO's "Sex Bytes") is a real find as the unhinged Blair, turning what could have been a one-dimensional villainess into a likably dangerous individual who means well, even if she goes about things the wrong way. Morgan also has wonderful chemistry with Brian Kelly ("Crinoline Head"), playing super-cool to the hilt as Todd. Rounding out the three major characters, Jennifer Peluso (1999's "Hellblock 13") is excellent as Leslie. Peluso poignantly injects Leslie with a level of confusion and angst that makes the ultimate falling-apart of her friendship with Blair all the more adept. In supporting roles, Amy Swaim ("Hellblock 13") is delightfully flighty as the ill-fated Trix Beasly, who, at one point, tells her fellow chearleaders that her dad will treat them to free abortions if they don't feel like using protection. And Emmy Stevens gives a small, realistic performance as a 15-year-old girl who is drugged and raped at a rave. Aside from Kelly, "Crinoline Head" alum who return for cameos here are Steve Lee (as a theater concession stand employee), the always-wonderful Cathy Slaminko (seen on television at one point), and Faircloth himself (as the theater ticket person).
While "Generation Ax" has a lot going for it, and is most certainly worth seeing for enthusiasts of Faircloth, horror movies, and high school-set stories, it is a bit uneven, particularly in its opening and closing segments. The pre-title sequence, set in jail, is decidedly extraneous, and Faircloth has a little trouble finding a satisfying conclusion to what has come before. A little less tragedy and irony, and a little more character interaction would have been appreciated.
Regardless of the occasional downfall, "Generation Ax" is surprisingly thoughtful in its portrayal of high school politics, and--probably intentionally--not as mean-spirited as "Crinoline Head." Instead of offering up characters whom we love to hate, Faircloth wisely gives us people who may not always do good things, but are certainly sympathetic. No doubt with a definite comedic edge, he seems to be saying, "Sure, these characters kill people, but what do you expect? They are, after all, stuck in the hell known as high school." Something tells me they would have straightened up after graduation.
©2001 by Dustin Putman