(2001)3Michael HastingsScared Straight for gen-Y, Jordan Melamed's Dogma-esque digital video feature may suffer a bit from its trumped-up, would-be gritty technique, but the method proves fruitful, as the director is able to extract raw, revealing performances from a group of actors more accustomed to glossier roles. Manic centers on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Lyle, a reticent teen with a violent streak; it's the stuff of after-school specials, but Gordon-Levitt and Melamed smartly choose to reveal his transformation through facial expressions and physical behavior rather than through spell-it-out dialogue. In the supporting cast, Don Cheadle and the radiant Zooey Deschanel add warmth to the dour -- and at times contrived -- plot. Best of all, Melamed proves an ace at atmosphere, despite his restless camera: filling the soundtrack with both diagetic bad-kid hard rock and ambient Thurston Moore guitar noodling, he's able to retain his realistic stance as he evokes the pale-green desolation of a juvenile detention center. Though it received enthusiastic reviews at both the 2001 Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals, Manic struggled to find a distributor until 2002.