THE THINNING (2016)
IMDB Synopsis: The Thinning” takes place in a future plagued by over crowding where population control is dictated by a high-school aptitude test. When two students (Logan Paul and Peyton List) discover the test is smoke and mirrors hiding a larger conspiracy, they must fight the system to expose it and take it down.
Director: Michael J. Gallagher
Writers: Michael J. Gallagher, Steve Greene
Stars: Logan Paul, Peyton List, Lia Marie Johnson
The Thinning (by “trans-media” director Michael Gallagher) is available only on YouTube Red. YouTube Red is YouTube’s paid streaming service for music, and YouTube Originals like The Thinning. My 30-day free trial was active for the exact run time of The Thinning.
The Thinning seems to star some YouTube celebrities, which does not redeem it as you think it might. What does redeem it the movie is that The Thinning is basically Breakfast Club meets Hunger Games run though a Disney filter. Truthfully, this does not redeem it either.
It’s a dystopian future – 2039 – and the earth had warmed, oceans have spread, and habitable land is shrinking. Crippled with a growing population, and the countries of the world have each developed solutions to reduce their head count. Some kill the elderly, others limit the number of babies you can have similar to modern day China’s previous One-Child Policy (now a Two-Child Policy cause we’re all good now). America, of course, has a better solution – a competition:
Each year until age 18 students are forced to take an aptitude test on an ipad. Those who do not pass are “thinned.”11
This approach is designed keep America at the top of its game. Or, as the Governor of Texas (who lives in Austin for some reason and looks a lot like Rick Perry for obvious reasons) says “Make America The Best Again” during his presidential bid announcement. Ugh.
Ecological destruction + Over population + Nationalism = The Thinning.
Gallagher is tackling a really ripe topic with a very blunt instrument. The movie is forced to deal with the math that we are all faced with. It’s math that carries with it an extreme ethical dilemma. Once we have used up earth resources, what are we willing to do to save our species? It’s Garret Hardin’s “Lifeboat Ethics,” maybe literally. Harden’s 1974 metaphor describes a lifeboat with room for ten more. The lifeboat is in an ocean surrounded by a hundred swimmers. The “ethics” of the situation stem from the dilemma of whether (and under what circumstances) swimmers should be taken aboard the lifeboat.
Today, the math of overpopulation and resource depletion is best described as part of Earth Overshoot Day campaign. Earth Overshoot Day is the is the date on which humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year. World Biocapacity / World Ecological Footprint X 365 = Earth Overshoot Day
Think of Earth like a bank account that we draw from where money is trees, water, ore, clean air, and so on. If we keep spending and not replenishing, at some point we move into a deficit. The concept came out of a UK think tank called the New Economics Foundation, that now announces Earth Overshoot Day each year. Here’s the trend since 1987:
1987 December 19
1990 December 7
1995 November 21
2000 November 1
2005 October 20
2007 October 26
2008 September 23
2009 September 25
2010 August 21
2011 August 27
2012 August 22
2013 August 20
2014 August 19
2015 August 13
2016 August 8
At this rate, by the time The Thinning takes place, Earth Overshoot Day will be in early July.
Ecological disaster is a convenient trope to prop up a modern version of a high school coming-of-age flick. At its heart, The Thinning is a revenge story. We are introduced to the typical high school genre film characters, although they are poorly drawn, stereotypes. Perhaps this is because we have seen them so many haves times before that no effort is needed to explain them. This happens in the horror genre all the time. The Governor’s son isn’t the brightest bulb and yet passes his test (even when he tries to fail), the a-hole bully quarterback passes, and the girl who gives the teacher a blowjob to pass the test , gets thinned. It’s just like high school. In the end, they all end up dying anyway. Spoiler alert. That’s the revenge part. In a sense, it is a Have- Nots revenge against the Haves. The 1% and the 99% – the movie is, as they all are, a both a reflection and a creator of our times. We are set up to believe that the 1% will prevail as usual, and in the end, they do not. Sort of.
We are fooled into thinking this is a Chompskyian version of the commodification of Freedom. “Freedom is a commodity that is for sale. If you are wealthy, you can have a lot of it.” The governor is all about The Thinning as long as his dim son isn’t condemned as part of it – like Capitalism and Corporate Environmentalism, the game is rigged. Until, of course, The Governor is caught rigging the game, and then his son is expendable to save his own skin and presidential bid. Repeating a line he uses often, he says “we all have to obey the law no matter how painful it is.” We all have to play the game, not matter how painful it is because their game is the only game.
Like Breakfast Club, High School ductwork plays a pivotal role in The Thinning. Like Bender, Blake and Liana use ductwork to move undetected (kind of) throughout the school as they monkeywrench the killing of their peers. In, what I can only imagine is a nod to John Hughes, director Michael Gallagher inserts a crashing though the ceiling scene, sans dirty, punchline-less joke.
Blake – our muscular son of a Governor tragic hero – is played by YouTuber Logan Paul. Let’s pause for a second to reflect on Paul’s IMBD bio:
Logan Paul is the founder and creator of the Logang, a group of followers that are not only amazing but extremely savage. Logan Paul will tell you about that vlog life. He is a social media phenomenon having garnered much of his popularity through the smartphone app called Vine, you may have heard of it, R.I.P. Vine. From there he was featured on the cover of a magazine called AdWeek, posing on top of a pile of bananas. Shortly after that, Logan went on a splits tour, traveling to London, Spain, Germany, China, Japan, Brazil, Belize, and France to record himself doing the splits at designated locations. While in Belize, Logan was the first one to ever record a Facebook underwater livestream. While in Brazil, Logan went to the Olympics where he and his roommate created the notorious Olympic dab video which got over 60 million views in 7 days, although due to copyright issues, the video was unfortunately removed. Logan also did a collaboration video with Kevin Hart in an attempt to “bring back the dab”. The song feature in the video was made by up and coming DJ named Marshmello. Logan was invited by Marshmello to one of his concerts where he let him on stage and let him dab with him. Logan also wrote, produced and starred in a movie that will be released in 2017 called “Airplane Mode”.
This is an amazing bio. A star is not born but reproduced through masturbation. Disneyfication
In an ironic final nod to the Disneyfication of the trauma-horror genre, the children are not killed after all, but simply shipped off to work for the tech company that produces the ipads that the tests are administered on. The monster is the corporation of course. It’s basically Fox conn. It’s ironic because the dumb end up working in a sweatshop, a fate worse than death perhaps but also sanitized for American YouTube sensibilities. Clearly, we are ok with it as a concept.
And in this way, we see one imagined path of how ecosystem collapse, inequality, privilege – all of which exists today – can be reflected as really not much more than a problem created by corporations to continue their upward growth trajectory. It’s a reach today, but the conditions are there.
11 Let’s not give “free edumarket” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos any more ideas. This seems like a concept she would embrace.