The best movie I’ve seen about teen angst since Donnie Darko comes from Belgium? It’s also the best film about a bullied teen with Asperger’s Syndrome that I’ve seen from any country, and its blurred life-into-vidgame fantasy sequences makes it seem doubly topical. Ben (Greg Timmermans) spends waaay too much time logged onto a multi-user fantasy role-playing game, but what other consolation does he have in life? His peers torment him; girls won’t look his way; and his divorced parents seem powerless to help. On-screen, however, his pimple-faced avatar smites rival warriors and wins a comely princess (whose braces make her resemble a certain girl from his high-school class). Timmermans looks too old for his character, whose past-tense voiceovers portend a certain ominous, Columbine-style denouement, but director Nic Balthazar—adapting his own novel—has carefully constructed Ben X so that its twist ending isn’t borrowed or cheap. And the barrage of screen graphics, text messages, and cell-phone videos speaks to modern teens’ isolation-in-connectivity. “2 late 2 heal,” Ben texts his vidgame paramour. You don’t have to be Belgian to know that feeling.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 22, 2008