DVD Review: Ben X

Ben X
Directed by Nic Balthazar
Starring Greg Timmermans, Laura Verlinden, Marijke Pinoy
Film Movement
Released date: March 10, 2009

In the online role-playing game world of ArchLord, Ben (Greg Timmermans) is a warrior, a dedicated level-80 hero. For the past year he has developed a flirtatious friendship with beautiful fellow gamer, Scarlite (Laura Verlinden), and together they have conquered worlds. Online, in this vast fantasy universe, Ben is alive and free.

Despite his efforts to transfer the interaction and communication skills he so easily uses online, Ben’s autism means he faces a daily struggle in the real world. Singled out by his classmates he is relentlessly bullied and Ben soon reaches the point where he can take no more. To get revenge, Ben calls on Scarlite to help him initiate the “˜endgame.’

Even though Ben X won awards at various film festivals and was nominated for even more, this kind of came from nowhere. The more cynical part of my brain suggested that a (relatively) low-budget movie from Belgium which was “˜inspired’ by true events about a bullied autistic kid would never go home empty handed from such a ceremony.

It began promisingly enough: the script (adapted by writer/director Nic Balthazar from his own novel) was sharp and witty. The opening scenes are frenetic and jerky, jumping between Ben’s real life and that of his avatar. In the real world the in-game icons from ArchLord appear on-screen demonstrating Ben’s thought processes as he tries to work out how to deal with situations with the help of his gaming expertise.

But what started out in the style of an Edgar Wright movie sadly loses pace and focus.

As the movie wears on the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur, especially in regards to the relationship between Ben and Scarlite. It started off as an interesting device but quickly became annoying particularly towards the end when it lost any momentum and I found it hard to care about anything that was happening.

The ambiguous interview clips with Ben’s parents, classmates, and teachers help build the tension at the beginning but these are quickly forgotten. What seems to be heading for a message of the dangers of violent videogames or the consequences of bullying or life with autism eventually shifts focus when trying to deliver yet another twist and doesn’t really know what it wants to say by the end.

Although brief, Laura Verlinden puts in a good performance as the enigmatic Scarlite. Despite her sweet appearance there is always the threat of mischief leaving you wondering what her true agenda is. Marijke Pinoy is superb as Ben’s constantly worried mother still finding it hard to accept the fact of her son’s autism. Greg Timmermans on the other hand was disappointing as Ben. A slightly hunched stance and nervous glances just didn’t make me believe that he was the person his voice-over and the other characters described.

DVD Features

Only two trailers for the film. Doesn’t really count as extra features.

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