Polish director Robert Gliński has spent 35 years making films about socio-political themes in Poland and Germany (Nazi occupation, the collapse of communism, and working-class problems under capitalism), many of which were period pieces or coming-of-age dramas. In 2014, Gliński succeeded to merge his two approaches in adapting Stones for the Rampart, Aleksander Kamiński’s well-known novel about a group of scouts during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. With his latest film, Be Prepared, the director once again tells a coming of age story, this time focusing on the rise of nationalism.
Gliński’s twelfth feature tells us a story about a group of present-day Polish boy scouts spending their summer camping in a local forest, learning the basic skills of surviving in nature, responsibility, friendship and also about important figures in Polish history. Every year, the camp also welcomes new recruits from less wealthy families outside of Poland: for the latest edition, they end up getting a group of young Nazi hooligans from Ukraine. The peaceful camp suddenly becomes torture for its more virtuous residents, when Polish scout Tomek (Maciej Musialowski) dies under suspicious circumstances. As one of only three people who know of Tomek’s death, senior scout Jacek (Mateusz Wieclawek) must investigate the murder on his own.
Gliński has made a teenage horror-cum-mystery movie with a deeper message, but his good intent has gone wrong in every possible way. Be Prepared combines hand-held footage in black-and-white, as if shot by the scouts themselves, with a more conventional storytelling perspective. The found footage scenes try to get us closer to the characters, bringing horror vibes into the movie. In their imitation of such footage (irrational, shaky camera), these scenes are more irritating than useful in any way.
But the in-film amateur footage is not the only thing that is black and white. Be Prepared is filled with characters that are either good or bad, which in the end doesn't really matter because they are all built on a bunch of stereotypes. Focusing on senior scout Jacek who desperately wants to be authority in the camp, other characters are ignored. Piotr (Michal Wlodarczyk), leader of the hooligans in the camp, appears to be malevolent just for the sake of it, so we never actually get any deeper psychological insight as to what is happening within him. The camp leader is there only to tell scouts (and us, the viewers) the camp rules and there is also a young on-site nurse, Ewa (Magdalena Wieczorek), who serves more as a sexual object than a fully developed character. Other scouts and other hooligans (and some illegal fishermen who are also around) pop up from time to time just to remind us why Jacek, Ewa and Piotr are in the forest.
Maybe the biggest disappointment in the film is the revelation of who killed Tomek (and others, at later points), mostly because the murderer doesn't really get much screen time. The killer is a secondary character that has no real motivation for his deeds, but that doesn't make any difference for Gliński because the whole film is just a stage to say a few thoughts about the rise of right wing politics in the world. Be Prepared takes 90 minutes to express, through dialogue in its final moments, a thought that our biggest enemies don't come from the outside, but rather from within.