Writer-director Angela How’s feature film debut is a micro-budget indie thriller called Bullied (aka Rock Candy, internationally). As the title suggests, it’s a thriller that follows the 12-year-old victim of bullying as she is pushed to her limits. The movie opens with Charlotte (Jacinta Klassen) confronted by her nemesis, bully Brenda (Lulu Fitz). As Charlotte defends herself physically, the two are sent to the principal’s office, and Charlotte is reprimanded, and Brenda is released unscathed as she is the “model student.”
Charlotte’s mother is horrified by her daughter’s behavior, while her father is somewhat sympathetic to her plight. Now that war between the two girls has been firmly established, Brenda takes photos of Charlotte in the bathroom and threatens to text the image to all her classmates in the ultimate form of humiliation. Charlotte gets one sweet punch in on Brenda before escaping her minions.
Later that night, both Brenda and Charlotte run into each other in the woods. Brenda tries beating Charlotte to a bloody pulp, but she pushes back, and things do not turn out so well for Brenda. The following day, word gets out that Brenda is missing, and the community comes together to search for her.
Bullied is not your typical after-school special about the problems of bullying. It’s a full-blown thriller and gets much darker, particularly with the arrival of Charlotte’s aunt and her husband for school break. The first half ticks all of a bullying story. Charlotte is the misunderstood victim who gets blamed for bringing her problems upon herself. The school turns a blind eye to the problem, and Brenda always comes out as the teacher’s pet. I appreciate the fact that, for a film that features children, it gets pretty dark.
“…Brenda and Charlotte run into each other in the woods…things do not turn out so well…”
Although Jacinta Klassen is no Meryl Streep, she does a great job carrying the film. And How impresses with how big she makes the small production feel. It’s shot in several locations, including the woods and all over the school. The cast is sizeable, including a few dozen student extras, and the story is quite wide-ranging. It’s quite an accomplishment in indie filmmaking.
From the start, you’ll notice the micro-budget of Bullied and the many negative trappings therein. The inexperience of the actors is apparent. But the flaw that stands out to me the most is the character development of Charlotte. Quite frankly, there’s not much of an arc. The difference between the protagonist at the beginning and end is that she endured some horrifying experiences. Other than that, Charlotte’s the same kid. All of the experiences thrown at Charlotte should change her, and she should be a significantly different person.
Without spoiling anything, the Charlotte and Brenda storyline sort of ends halfway through, when a particular sub-plot is revealed. The switch to this thread is jarring and soon takes over the entire story. This twist most affects Brenda’s plot, and the way it resolves doesn’t make logical storytelling sense. I am left with questions about Brenda that I can’t answer.
I’m now in this situation where I would like to give low-budget indies the benefit of the doubt for elements it can’t control, such as the unseasoned acting from some. But severe plot holes and illogical story twists can be avoided by anyone who writes a screenplay; as such, Bullied falls short of a recommendation. I do appreciate that the film features an Asian-Australian filmmaker and cast, including Klassen. And you can’t miss the passion behind the camera. While this film may have missed the mark, I can’t wait to see How’s next project.
"…not your typical after-school special about the problems of bullying."