We were all kids, once. Some of us were bullies. Others were victims. But I think most of us spent our childhoods somewhere in between these two poles. This morally ambiguous “in between” area is the focus of Eleven, a wonderfully honest film that reminds us that early adolescence is a difficult and confusing time, and the memories that accompany bullying have no expiration date.
Eleven is a story about the “cool kid” politics that plague grade school and the effects they have on friendships. It’s partially inspired by George Orwell’s classic essay Shooting an Elephant, which “explores the idea of the individual’s powerlessness in the face of the mass,” according to Eleven’s writer/producer Kate Prior. This film takes Orwell’s philosophies and places them in the world of a group of young girls, where peer pressure is an undeniably powerful force, and the only reward you get for being yourself is rejection.
Of the two leads, one is friendly with the in-crowd, the other one isn’t, and their relationship suffers as a result of external influences. Thanks to a slightly dissonant score and beautifully understated cinematography, the film feels a little like a well-realized memory. The drama is definitely of the slow burn variety, and I still find myself thinking about it, months after having seen it for the first time.
Major props should be given to child actors Sasha Dingle-Bell and Astrid Lewis, who do a lot with the material they’ve been given. Kudos should also go to director Abigail Greenwood, who does a fantastic job of coaxing realistic performances from her young cast. The two main characters truly come to life during the film, and getting child actors to act like the characters that have been written is probably the most essential piece of a film like this—it can make or break the believability of the film.
In order to get the girls to fully embrace their characters and the film’s plot, the filmmakers used workshop strategies. Abigail states that the team “wanted to make sure that the girls felt completely comfortable with the subject matter, so we just did a lot of just hanging out, playing games and talking about the story.” This style of pre-production seems to have been effective, as the end product feels as real as things that I remember experiencing as a kid.
In the end, Eleven shows us how practical jokes are often cruel in their intent as well as their execution. This film might be painful for anyone who has ever had a weird friend or been the weird friend themselves. But it also might be the catharsis needed to make past events heal into something less tragic and painful.