If you ever wished horrible misery on everyone who tormented you during adolescence, then you will want to see My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea.
The main character in the indie animated feature film is named Dash Shaw, which is also the name of the award-winning cartoonist who directed the animated film. The real world Shaw is best known for challenging, experimental comics work like Bodyworld and Bottomless Belly Button. His latest book is Cosplayers, a collection of situational comedy vignettes about the guerilla filmmaking aspirations of two cosplaying girls done up with a bone-dry sense of humor. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea shares the same sardonic wryness of Cosplayers but is a far trippier experience.
A jumble of influences are immediately apparent in My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea. Dash (Jason Schwartzmann) and best friend Asaf (Reggie Watts) both write for the school paper at Tides High School and they talk to each other in a too-serious-for-teens mumblecore argot that’s reminiscent of both Rushmore and old Peanuts cartoons. Dash’s aspirations to journalistic importance and commentary on social structure ping back to good ol’ Charlie Brown sighing about feeling unfulfilled in every possible way.
Entire High School feels like a descendant of Charles Schulz’ existential dread kid-fare in another way, too. It’s crafted in a limited-animation style that ponderously transitions from one frame to another. The choice comes across as an aesthetic consideration, instead of a budgetary one, and gets heightened by sudden shifts in art style and a constant flow of lava-lamp overlays and washes. Daydreams and flashbacks glow in a psychedelic kaleidoscope that recalls Ralph Bakshi’s work
When Asaf and editor Verti begin a very chaste courtship, Dash gets blindingly jealous and turns out slanderous articles about Asaf. A call to the principal’s office ensues, where Mr. Grimm says, “I want you to think about how you’ve trash-talked your best friend’s penis.” Dash’s detention sends him to a sub-basement where he discovers forged building code documents. It turns out that the fancy auditorium addition makes the entire cliffside building unsafe and an earthquake will send the whole building toppling into the water.
Which, of course, happens right away. From, there, the film shows Dash and friends desperately trying to climb their way through the sophomore, junior, and senior floors of the building before the school becomes completely submerged.
Along the way, we see the typical high school pecking order crumble into chaos. Gymnastics team mean-girl Mary has a change of heart and joins up with Dash and crew despite making fun of them earlier in the day, because Dash was right for once in his misbegotten career. Riots happen in the cafeteria disaster ward. Stoners and burnouts try to jack Verti for her backpack after she grabs her inhaler and medical supplies from the nurse’s office. A would-be warrior monarchy of senior lax-bros riffs on the descent-into-savagery themes of Lord of the Flies, complete with open mass graves.
Tying these sequences to the kinds of by-the-numbers disaster movie plot beats from films like The Poseidon Adventure makes the proceedings hilarious. The flat, disaffected line readings by the actors lend a stilted air to the melodrama but it never feels like Entire High School takes itself too seriously. It knows that you can dismiss it as a twee hipster arthouse vanity project but it’s going to make you guffaw while you do it.