Stars: Patrick Schwarzenegger, Jacob Lofland, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Joshua Close, Derek Brandon, Ele Bardha, Jostein Sagnes, James Bloor, Atif Hashwi, Joe Cipriano, Eva Rosenwald | Written by Matthew Ogens, Kyle Lierman | Directed by Matthew Ogens
In a post-apocalyptic America in which all of the adults appear to have been killed off by a mysterious virus, the few surviving children force themselves to keep going to school. Survivalism, chopping wood and scavenging for food are all prioritised by this brand new curriculum, as the desperate youths prepare for a harsh winter.
In a world which is ruled by the older teenagers (who are about as petty, spiteful and cruel as one might expect), young(er) Josh dreams of escape, up North, where it is rumoured that there are more survivors and he hopes his parents might still be alive. After an altercation with the malevolent Gentry (a boorish James Bloor, who threatens to steal the show), Josh finally hits the road – roping crush Jessie into leaving with him. But with Gentry being the grudge-bearing type and Jessie the sister of the group’s leader (who is played by Patrick Schwarzenegger!) the young lovebirds find themselves pursued by four freshmen determined to make Josh suffer.
Fans of the YA sci-fi boom should find more than a little to enjoy in Go North, which strikes many of the chords which made the likes of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and their ilk so popular, from the dystopian future to the tentative, tender romance between its leads. While the story is relatively surface level – Lord of the Flies meets The Road, crossed with an even younger Logan’s Run – the emotions feel rawer and deeper than most, and there’s far less action.
Not that it needs it. Slow as it may be, the narrative is compelling and convincing and Jacob Lofland and Sophie Kennedy Clark are both excellent as Josh and Jessie. It’s rare in a film as comparatively low-budget as this, but there’s not a bad performance amongst the lot of them (no, not even from Schwarzenegger. Jr).
Would that their world felt so authentic. It’s here that the low budget begins to show. While the film is beautifully shot and always looks great, its vision of a post-apocalyptic future is only able to extend to run-down industrial estates and shabby old houses. Going on Josh’s age in the flashbacks, this world can only be in its relatively early days of post-adults, so it’s a little mystifying how the kids could have it so rough so soon. That said, it is a society run by leery, beer-swilling college bros, so maybe not.
Elsewhere, the world-building is tantalisingly on point, setting things up but never pulling Chekhov’s trigger. Its coming-of-age love story takes precedence, even when you would much rather they concentrate some more on that creepy pile of skulls in the road. That one of the first things this society of younglings would decide to outlaw is religion is another interesting touch which is barely examined – and, likewise, their method of punishment for lawbreakers.
Go North’s dedication is admirable but occasionally frustrating. A slow, beautiful and haunting film, it’s packed full of great ideas and strong performances. Sure, one wishes it could have gone a little further at times, but as it is, Go North is a film of considerable class and maturity.