New Granada was a planned community for middle class families to go and live, the idea being that prosperity for them would follow in an area where they had all the right amenities. However, that might have been true for the adults, but a quarter of the town's population were under fifteen years of age, and all they had to keep them occupied was a recreation hut run by one staff member. With the kids turning to petty crime out of boredom, the authorities and parents began to crack down on them, as young Carl (Michael Eric Kramer) discovers when he's arrested for supposedly breaking a patrol car windscreen with his wilder friend Richie (Matt Dillon)...
Of course, Carl and Richie had nothing to do with the incident, but as Richie is carrying a small knife, it's all the cop arresting them needs for his excuse to take them in for questioning. This sets up a sense of injustice right away, and places us on the side of the kids as the writers Charles S. Haas and Tim Hunter (who would go onto direct the similar River's Edge) and director Jonathan Kaplan are. Over the Edge could have easily fit into the usual youth gone wild scaremongering film familiar from juvenile delinquent movies from the fifties onwards, but there's a palpable effort to understand here.
Not for nothing did Kurt Cobain describe this as one of his favourite films, as it taps into youthful dissaffection like few films before or since, like Nirvana's music had done. The premise was actually based on a true incident where a community lost control of its younger members who eventually laid seige to a parents' evening at the local school, making headlines that Over the Edge was torn from. We see how a small grudge can build and escalate, in this case from Carl and Richie's wrongful arrest up to a full scale riot, just as had ocurred in real life.
Although the police are set up to look as if they have nothing to do but bust teenagers for carrying a miligram of marijuana all day, the parents are portrayed more sympathetically even as we are shown how wrong they can be. Carl's mother wants to be a shoulder for him to cry on when he comes in at night after being beaten up, but his father is taking the stronger line and demanding he not see is troublemaker friends again. Carl is a good kid, but his circumstances work against him so that when tragedy finally strikes he acts like he has been a fugitive from the law along.
The answer to the delinquency is to tighten the grip of authority, and a nine-thirty curfew is imposed on the teens, leaving them all the more frustrated and contributing to the pressure cooker environment that is builidng up to an explosion. There are casually funny moments, such as when Carl's friend Claude is tripping in class just as he is looking at a Heironymous Bosch slide and later when the school is shown an anti-vandalism short, but mainly Kaplan strives for an atmosphere of authenticity and to an extent achieves it. By the end an apocalyptic mood has descended over the characters, maybe with one car blowing up too many, but the point is well taken. You can judge Over the Edge as exploitation or education, as it is effective either way. Music by Sol Kaplan.