New Granada, Colorado is a “planned" community, a village nestled in the hills, geographically protected from the noise and influence of the city by vacant lots and row after row of cookie-cutter, “ticky-tacky” Colonial homes. It’s slogan, “Tomorrow’s city… today,” is intended as a beacon of hope to those seeking shelter from the woes of urban inhabitance, promising a community segregated from crime, overcrowding and loosening morality. Ironically, its tagline is an accurate representation of things to come, but not representative of a serene family life. It turns out that fleeing the metropolis for a life of suburban ennui doesn’t actually solve little problems, it only magnifies them, spawning a bored army of mischievous teenagers, trapped in a rural prison that offers only violence and drug abuse as a means of release.
Fatigued by joyless days at school and constant police presence at the local rec center, Carl (Michael Eric Kramer) and Richie (Matt Dillon, in his debut) pass the time riding bikes, flirting with girls and desperately seeking adventure. Both are good kids, trapped by circumstance, constantly in fear of running afoul of the aptly named Sergeant Doberman, who hangs the threat of reform school over their heads like a swinging pendulum.
Catching wind of a stolen handgun, the boys manage to wrestle it from its female burglars, take it out for some very unsafe target practice and scare the life out of a local drug dealer turned police informant. Despite the emptiness of their threats and inherent best intentions, lounging on-lookers spy the weapon, forcing the boys to flee town and seek a buyer for their plaything turned bad luck charm.
As anticipated, through anxious and nerve-wracking foreshadowing, the resulting police chase ends in tragedy, forcing the community to come to terms with its teen delinquency problem and inspiring the local teens to lash out at their aloof parents. The adolescents’ ability to organize and work together to inspire fear and promote chaos is both disquieting and remarkable, showing that if nurtured and appreciated, they would be capable of bringing about positive change.
These unattended, private moments shared by the children carry a certain intimacy, accentuated by authentic dialogue and uncharacteristically nuanced teen performances. The photography is just as subtle, carrying beautiful blue-hues and sweeping tracking shots, spanning vast meadows and endless, sun-scorched strips of highway. Even moments of savagery, particularly Carl’s brutal beating at the hands of his enemies, are artfully shot in slow-motion and bathed in atmospheric noise and echoey harpsichord. It’s a tone far more suggestive than expected for the genre, lending an air of tragedy and pathos to an environment of perpetual tension.
Over the Edge culminates with the moment this volcano of hostility explodes, spilling out into full-blown combat. New Granada’s once silent prisoners have rebelled against their captors, waging war against indoctrination into a world of conformity. It’s a futile battle, which the precocious Carl seems to realize in the film’s final moments, but it’s not without its tiny victories. The PTA meeting coup is a brilliant burst of anarchic spirit, catharsis and ingenuity, just reckless and alarming enough to shock the adult members of this community into active parenting.
Over the Edge (Orion Pictures, 1979)
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Written by Charlie Haas and Tim Hunter
Photographed by Andrew Davis