2007 // Belgium - Netherlands // Nic Balthazar // November 21, 2008 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
From its loopy credit sequence—presented as though the film were an online fantasy role-playing game—it's apparent that Ben X relies on first-time director Nic Balthazar's assured familiarity with its narrative elements. Based on his own novel, the film confidently tackles subjects that should be challenging to translate to cinema: video games, digital socializing, and the daily tribulations of Asberger Syndrome. Looking suspiciously twenty-something and relying too heavily on bug-eyed cowering, Greg Timmermans portrays Ben, a withdrawn kid who is only comfortable in an online RPG. Indeed, Ben approaches the real world as a game, a strategy that enables him to navigate relentless bullying and social confusion. With furious, often flailing stylization, Balthazar shows us a cruel, overwhelming world through Ben's eyes, while snippets of grave talking heads foretell that Something Bad will happen. Although Timmermans' cartoonish presence never quite solidifies Ben's profound agony, Ben X searingly engages as it follows his conflict with a pair of sociopathic thugs and his quest to meet up with an online romantic prospect (Laura Verlinden). Unfortunately, the film's novel style and potent aura of despair unravel when Balthazar starts cutting corners for a twist conclusion that's both implausible and cheaply moralizing.