If there’s one thing that’s immediately and undeniably apparent about Necktie Youth, it’s that the film is unafraid to be viscerally direct in its approach. From the first shots to the final frame, this film dares to be honest and impactful in a way that may not sit comfortably with some audiences. Following the story of a group of young Jo’burg residents (including best friends Jabz and September) as they respond to the live-streamed suicide of a girl they knew, it’s very clear that every second of this film is designed to get audiences talking. Although a sense of inevitability menaces the story, the plot often feels aimless and lacking in forward motion, but that’s okay. When the characters themselves struggle to envision a future beyond the next scene of debauchery, it’s only natural for the story to reflect their lack of momentum.
Likewise, tragedy in the opening scene means that the shadow of death is always looming nearby, and this is deftly portrayed through the use of black and white. While wistful flashbacks are portrayed in sepia-tinted colour, the present is consistently graphite grey and black, with even daytime shots seeming dark and grim. Traditionally colourful elements, such as sunrises, parties and decadent interiors, are all presented in monochrome, and it looks incredible. The camera captures the slightest movements of facial expressions and the rambling suburbs of Johannesburg with equal intensity, displaying incredible detail in every shot. Though the film may occasionally stray into a documentary style, there’s never any doubt that the director has deliberately crafted the film in such a way, to elicit a reaction or prove a point.
At the heart of Necktie Youth are the actors, particularly the central duo of Bonko Cosmo Khoza as Jabz and Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, also the director, who plays September. The two of them bring such veracity to the characters and their relationship that the audience finds it easy to sympathise with guys who are not necessarily the most likeable. As much as this film may depend on moments of shock and awe to get its points across, it is the actors who provide the emotional through-line which binds the film together. The fact that both elements are so finely balanced is the sign of a great director: in that regard, Necktie Youth proves to be a deft and evocative showcase of Shongwe-La Mer’s promising cinematic flair.
Necktie Youth does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Necktie Youth here: