In 2016, YouTube released its first original movie: a near-future tale called The Thinning about a world where children are killed for failing a standardized test. Starring Logan Paul, The Thinning was almost immediately forgotten; nevertheless, YouTube still started the production of a sequel the following year. This past January, however, Paul filmed the body of a suicide victim in Japan’s Aokigahara forest in one of his vlogs, igniting international controversy, and the project was shelved “indefinitely.” There simply wasn’t much reason to revisit the world of The Thinning, a generic sci-fi film released near the end of the Hunger Games-fueled YA dystopia gold rush.
Last week, Paul tweeted the trailer for the sequel, signaling that the YouTube film was very much back on. Twelve hours later, The Thinning: New World Order went live on YouTube Premium. Equal parts bizarre political thriller, paint-by-numbers dystopia, and a boxing match, New World Order is a Logan Paul comeback tour vehicle dragged down by a premise that its filmmakers seem to find alternately boring and confusing.
Spoilers for The Thinning and The Thinning: New World Order below.
The Thinning series is set in a near future where all nations must reduce their populations by 5 percent each year. In true meritocratic fashion, the US does this by instituting an annual K-12 exam and executing the worst performers. (You’d have to kill a quarter of school-aged children — and an increasing percentage each year — to hit that target with our real-world population, but it’s portrayed as an uncommon fate.) In the first film, Blake Reddington (Logan Paul) is a Texas governor’s son who intentionally fails his test as a protest, only to have his father swap his scores with smart classmate Laina Michaels (Peyton List). Blake embarks on a mission to save Laina from execution, ultimately sacrificing himself to “the Thinning.”
In the last scene of the first Thinning movie, it’s revealed that the students aren’t actually executed. Instead, they’re taken underground by generic evil tech company Assuru Global, which forces them to build electronics so it can call its products “made in America.” Since the actual existence of the factory is secret, you’d think the company could just outsource manufacturing and lie about it, which would almost certainly be easier. But the twist establishes two of New World Order’s core themes: pointlessly convoluted political machinations and a plot built on narratively convenient dream logic.
New World Order is split across two loosely related arcs. In one, Laina infiltrates Governor Reddington’s presidential campaign on behalf of an anti-Thinning resistance movement, which promises to smuggle her Thinning-age siblings out of the country in return — because, apparently, this population-reduction plan includes banning people from leaving the country. She’s helped by former classmate Kellan Woods (Calum Worthy), a frenetic cub reporter who is trying to prove that the secret factories exist. (Citizens in this future may shrug at systematically killing millions of children, but a company using forced labor is considered the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theories.)
Meanwhile, Blake and his fellow underachievers reawaken after what turns out to be a mock execution. They’re told that a “patented algorithm” has selected them for special reform, so they can grow “from a parasitic leech on our society to a productive member of the working class.” This scene is the only time New World Order becomes absurd enough to make the series’s premise work; it is darkly funny, and it’s over almost immediately.
Soon, Blake falls afoul of resident bully Cage (Charles Melton), who is part of a privileged kapo class called the “Worthy,” members that appear to be selected through cage-match brawls that are somehow an integral part of the teen sweatshop gulag system. The only possible justification is that Logan Paul spent much of 2018 training for his boxing match against his YouTube rival KSI this summer, and he can’t show off his ripped bod on an electronics assembly line. If the filmmakers were playing to his strengths, they would have toned down Blake’s nonstop gauntlet of physical and psychological trauma, which includes a thwarted romance and a horrific injury. Paul’s YouTube persona is built on relentless enthusiasm, and his capacity for portraying sadness bottoms out around “concerned bemusement.”
New World Order could have been much worse — if, say, it had tried to inject explicit “relevance” into its story about children being forcibly separated from their parents and held in prison camps on the orders of a callous American government. This would have played into the cliché that dystopian fiction is just real-world tragedies happening to attractive white people, and the film is better off without the attempt. Compared to its predecessor, it’s also slightly less insistent that the real problem with government child-murder policies is insufficiently egalitarian murdering. It’s no longer a ham-fisted metaphor for the SAT or a beat-for-beat repetition of YA sci-fi cliches.
That’s mostly because the film seems utterly indifferent toward its own subject matter, though. As a non-member of the Logang, I can’t judge how much fun it is to watch Logan Paul get in a fistfight, wander around a warehouse looking dejected, or participate in a baffling PG-rated dream sequence love scene. I can question why you’d pad this fan service with such a halfhearted and blatantly nonsensical plot, which ends on an equally nonsensical cliffhanger that’s spoiled by the film’s trailer. There is no reason for The Thinning: New World Order to exist, but, apparently, we’ll be getting a sequel.