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Teens Take Over on 'The Society'
May 10, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Imagine a cross between Home Alone and Lord of the Flies, and you’re on the right track for The Society, an ominous drama that drops Friday on Netflix.

West Ham, Connecticut, an affluent New York bedroom community, has been plagued by a mysterious foul odor that wafted in, disappeared and now has wafted in again.

To give the high school students of West Ham some relief, because there’s nothing the parents of West Ham won’t do for the kids, an arrangement is made to have them all bused out of town for a week-long camping trip that one suspects is not exactly a hard-core survival sort of adventure.

When they return, in any event, it is expected the odor will be gone, and life will return to its pleasant, comfortable normal, freeing the students to revel in high school drama and social media.

We meet, for instance, Cassandra (Rachel Keller), who is student council president and the lead in the school play. While she seems like a fairly kind soul, several of the subdivisions don’t like her. That includes Harry (Alex Fitzalan), who seems to think she’s power-hungry, which actually seems to describe Harry better himself.

Cassandra isn’t even completely popular, however, with her own younger sister Allie (Kathryn Newton, above). Allie seems annoyed that she spends most of her life in Cassandra’s shadow.

The Society doesn’t tip its hand early on as to exactly who really is a good person at West Ham High, which would drop the show squarely into a vat of soapy water in which a thousand other high school-centric dramas swirl.

Soon, however, things take a different turn. The camping trip is aborted, and the students are all bused back to West Ham, where they find no one waiting for them.

Like, no one. No parents, no grownups, no clue to where they may have gone.

There’s also no WiFi. Dude, this has now gone too far. The students can reach each other and no one else. No messages get through. The roads out of town all disappear. Commuter trains no longer come through.

In the most interconnected age ever, several hundred West Ham students are, like, totally on their own.

The first night is Home Alone, except that instead of eating a gallon of ice cream and staying up late, this crowd has a major beer party in the local church. And stays up late.

On Day Two, Lord of the Flies starts to kick in. When Cassandra tries to explain to the group that they need to plan for contingencies, Campbell (Toby Wallace) breaks up the discussion in a way that suggests there is not a unanimous consensus on a calm, rational, peaceful, equitable game plan.

It’s not that hard to imagine what happens next, though we can offer the minor spoiler that things don’t disintegrate into total cannibalistic chaos overnight. These are kids schooled in the gentility of the economic aristocracy, and if that doesn’t mean they practice it, some significant percentage of the group thinks it’s worth considering as an option.

The hardest part, for viewers, might be sorting out the lineup. There isn’t a great deal of diversity in West Ham, and keeping track of who is perpetuating which drama among the large cast requires some concentration for at least the first couple of episodes.

This being Netflix, the language gets graphic. The physical encounters, much less so. Relationships, like the one between outsider Will (Jacques Colimon, above with Newton) and insider Kelly (Kristine Froseth), tend to develop as suggestions.

We get a lot of closeup face shots as various characters try to deal with this inexplicable situation. They also often speak in whispers. They’re pretty articulate, though, and they remain at least nominally rational longer than most real-life people.

Your worst fear about remaking Lord of the Flies in a world where everyone has a cell phone is that every aspect of life would soon become a selfie and all semblance of order and consideration would vanish.

The Society doesn’t see this new world that neatly or simply. It does suggest that in the absence of any indication what will happen next, a group of very different people with very different agendas will, one way or the other, start to create a new order.

It’s interesting to watch this group try.

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