[CONTENT WARNING: This review touches on potentially triggering subjects in the film, including death, drug abuse, and suicide]
After seeing the trailer for Eoin Macken’s Here Are The Young Men boast such a strong young cast, it instantly found itself on my watchlist. This Irish thriller, based on the novel of the same name by Rob Doyle, stars Dean Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones, 1917), Finn Cole (Peaky Blinders), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit, Emma), and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street).
The year is 2003 and Dublin teens Matthew (Chapman), Rez (Walsh-Peelo), and Kearney (Cole) are about to have one final summer blow out of to see out their school life. The unambitious trio kicks things off the way they intend to go on – they head to a club, where their drink and drug binge begins. Shortly after, the friends witness the death of a young girl in a tragic accident and her death begins to affect each of them in different ways. The precocious Rez starts to succumb to paranoia and depression and attempts to take his own life. Nihilistic Kearney becomes dangerously unhinged and unpredictable, and Matthew struggles to cope with his thoughts and feelings and tries to suppress them with drugs and alcohol, despite his new girlfriend, Jen (Taylor-Joy), trying to get him to open up and take responsibility for the things in his life.
It’s very likely that this film’s audience will draw comparisons to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) due to the subject matters at hand and the general vibe and energy of the film – and they’d be fair to do so. Its captivating reflection on toxic masculinity is one its audience will have seen many times before, however, Here Are The Young Men works on its own merits, and if there’s any justice in the world, will hopefully one day have the same cult status of Trainspotting.
Dean-Charles Chapman delivers a solid performance as his character goes on an absolute rollercoaster of a journey throughout the film. As the story progresses and his character becomes more erratic and unpredictable, Chapman has you questioning whether this is someone you should be rooting for or be disgusted by. Following his impressive performance in Peaky Blinders and now Here Are The Young Men, I’m excited to see more of Finn Cole in the future. As Kearney’s mental state begins to deteriorate, Cole really goes all-in with his performance and frankly scares the shit out of you. I’m equally as excited to see more of Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who starred in one of my favourite feel-good films of the past decade, Sing Street (seriously, watch it already!) and played Alfred the Great in Vikings.
Anya Taylor-Joy sadly doesn’t get as much screen time as the rest of the cast but of course, she steals the scenes she is in – one of which we are treated to her singing. Her character is the ‘neutral good’ of the friends and is particularly close with Matthew. Whilst selfishly I’d say I wanted to see more Taylor-Joy, it made sense for her character to be there for the few particular scenes she was in as a reality check for Matthew. She isn’t there for Matthew to lay all his problems on and she makes that crystal clear.
Travis Fimmel (Vikings) makes regular appearances in the film as a fictitious ‘television host’ during Matthew and Kearney’s trippy experiences. These scenes are a little jarring at first, but after the first couple, their purpose becomes clear. We’re witnessing a visualisation of their mental state, so of course, it’s going to be erratic and over the top. Much like the film itself, these ‘Big Show!’ scenes will be hit or a big miss for the audience. It’s a bold direction choice but for me, it fits in really well with the rest of the film.
James Mather’s cinematography in this film feels a lot different from his previous work I have seen, and I mean in the best way possible. Mathers’ previous work includes films and TV shows such as Frank, Inside No.9, Krypton, and the new comedy series from Brian & Domhnall Gleeson, Frank of Ireland. The energy of the film is brilliantly captured in every frame, and accompanied by a banger of a soundtrack, which includes the likes of Primal Scream, Joy Division, and The Chemical Brothers. The music really elevates the scenes and matches the whole vibe Macken is aiming for.
Quickly referring back to my earlier comment on its captivating reflection on toxic masculinity, Eoin Macken’s use of mirrors throughout the film is something that really stood out to me as I was watching. There are a number of scenes in the film where the characters are staring at themselves in a mirror or the main area of focus in a shot is a reflection in a mirror. Whilst I’m really looking forward to seeing others delve into their interpretations of this, for me, I think it’s a clear nod to self-reflection and the way in which characters perceive themselves. It quickly becomes clear that we as the audience can’t trust any of the characters or what they say or trust whether what we’re seeing is real or hallucinatory fiction – and Matthew, Kearney, and Rez all start to feel that too.
Here Are The Young Men‘s hard-hitting narrative definitely won’t be for everyone, but it’s well worth a watch when it’s released on Digital in the UK today and on DVD 10 May. This little Irish thriller is a cult classic in the making and the young and incredibly talented cast deserves your time.