Barreling toward its rapidly modernizing future, China takes Internet addiction more seriously than most nations: To watch Web Junkie, an often scary yet half-realized documentary, is to see a society trapped in its old solutions. After parents give the okay to authorities, computer-happy teens are rounded up (sometimes drugged in their sleep) and sent to re-education camps, where online access is curtailed and daily activities include marching in the yard and attending discussion groups. It’s a surreal callback to the Mao era; tellingly, the therapy reveals a generational divide between globally fluent kids and frustrated parents who recall years of uniformed discipline.
Blessed with enviable access to a suburban Beijing facility, codirectors Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia bobble the ball on scholarship: Interviews with the kids are spirited, but where’s the debunking of these treatments? Do they even work at all? (Western audiences might view the doc as a dark comedy.) Worse, Web Junkie glides over its most provocative idea—namely, that Chinese youth, often without siblings due to population control, might be making those attachments the only way they know how. You won’t worry so much about the patients staging a successful jailbreak to an Internet café. Rather, it’s the unquestioned pseudoscience that’s most troubling.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf