The Thinning is a 2016 film distributed by YouTube Red. It is set in a dystopian future in which a worldwide shortage of natural resources has led the UN to order all countries to reduce their population by 5% each year, and America has chosen to comply with this directive by administering a high-stakes test every year from 1st grade to 12th. The lowest percentile in each grade is then executed in the titular "Thinning."
We follow two students, Laina and Blake, through their last two years with the Thinning: Laina is making and selling "study guides" — contact lenses with embedded computers that provide test answers — in order to pay for her mother's treatments. (For what is never specified, but it's implied to be cancer.) Blake is the governor's son. He attempts to procure one of Laina's study guides, but she has none left. Blake's girlfriend Ellie fails the test and is killed. Blake tries to get his father to spare Ellie, but the governor tells him the law applies to everyone.
A year later, Laina's mother has died, leaving her to look after her two younger siblings. Her sister, Corrine, is in first grade this year, meaning she will be taking her first test. Laina escorts Corrine to her test before going to her own. Blake records a video of himself stating his intent to deliberately fail the test and force his father to change things, and drops it in the mail. One of his father's employees spots him doing this and retrieves the video, bringing it to his father to watch. His father contacts the administrator of the test to arrange for Blake to pass regardless. Laina fails despite being one of the best students in school who knows she couldn't have failed the test. When Blake cuts the power to the room where the Thinning takes place, Laina manages to escape, and together the two join forces to get to the bottom of things.
A sequel, The Thinning: New World Order, continues after the events of the first film, featuring a resistance group attempting to end the Thinning.
This film provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Blake's father is implied to have fixed things so Ellie was targeted for the Thinning (since she passed). And of course, when his options are give up power or let his son go to the Thinning, he lets his son go. (The movie is unclear on whether he knows about the not actually killing them thing.)
- Achievement Test of Destiny: One where they kill you if you do badly on it. Or do they?
- Adult Fear: First graders are subject to the Thinning. Imagine being a parent and learning your six year old child has been taken to killed for failing their test. And no, the reveal at the end does not make it any better, unless you think six year olds being forced into manual labor is a good thing.
- Air Vent Escape: Blake and Laina escape into the air vents to evade capture. This backfires at one point when the vent collapses under Blake's weight, though he happens to be above the school pool at the time.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Blake tries to save the rest of the failed students while dressed as a guard, but he doesn't have the gravitas to convince the other guards to go along with him, which leads to his capture.
- Bittersweet Ending: Laina is alive, free from the test forever, and reunited with Corrine. Blake has gone to the Thinning, which is actually using the victims as forced labor for the company making the test. Finally, the governor uses his son's supposed death to clear himself of any suspicion in the test fixing scandal, so his presidential bid still has legs. And finally, the system is still in place — kids are still going to the Thinning again next year.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Blake tries to do this a couple of times. It never quite works out for him.
- Corrupt Politician: The governor, who arranges for Blake to pass despite a failing grade. How deep he is in the conspiracy is never totally revealed.
- Crapsack World: The 2039 Earth hasn't been faring well with overpopulation and ecological disasters. In order to alleviate the issue, many countries resorted to birth control and deliberate cullings of elderly in order to meet 5% population reduction quota set by UN. In the United States, the government created a testing system where the failed students were sent to the thinning as a way to focus the resources on the best and the brightest.
- CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Laina does this after Blake falls in the pool. He spits up some water and is then totally fine.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Not Blake's original intention by knocking out the guard, but once he's got an unconscious guard he rolls with it.
- The Ending Changes Everything: The kids who fail the Thinning are not killed, but instead shipped to a factory owned by the company which manufactures the test tablets, implicitly as forced labor in their construction. Ellie's among those on the assembly line.
- Enhance Button: In order to get Mason's password, Laina has Kellan send her footage from the control room and rewinds to a point where Mason enters it, zooming in on the keyboard.
- Evil Teacher: The male teacher is discovered to be sleeping with female students and offering them an automatic pass on the test in return. It's not a promise he has the power to fulfill.
- Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: The goons all have black eyeshadow to go with the black masks. Blake's lack of said eyeshadow helps differentiate him from them while he's in disguise.
- Faceless Goons: The guys who work for the testing authority all wear identical black bodysuits with helmets that cover their faces. This comes back to bite them later when Blake dresses up as one.
- Heads-Up Display: The contact-lens "study guides" that Laina sells to people who don't think they can pass on their own.
- Hollywood Hacking: Averted. Kellan has the ability to access the school's camera system whenever he wants through his cell phone, but only because his father is the IT guy and Kellan stole his login credentials. When Laina needs to get Mason's password, she just has him call up video of Mason entering it. It does have Hollywood's patented "Access Granted" message, which doesn't appear in any Real Life software.
- I Was Beaten by a Girl: Mason greets one of his returning formerly unconscious guards with a scornful "You got beat up by a girl?"
- Karma Houdini: Blake's father gets away with forsaking his son, and all of the children who were wrongly failed.
- Kill the Poor: It's not quite unsubtly implied (and in Blake's case it actually happens) that the kids of rich or well-connected parents are given a good score regardless of the children's actual performance so their family lines will keep going. Everybody else dies... or as the ending truly showcases, are given an equally horrible fate.
- Playful Hacker: Kellan, who routinely uses his father's login to access the school camera system and send any interesting stuff to a local reporter.
- Population Control: To conserve resources, every country in the world must reduced their population by 5% every year. Some force a one-child policy, others kill the elderly, and the US kills the kids who fail a standardized test.
- Pop-Up Texting: Used throughout the film alongside split-screen.
- Post-Peak Oil: The world's resources are dwindling, which is the stated reason for Population Control. The Governor of Texas is able to afford things like Pop-Tarts, while everyone else has to make do with the basics. And yet precious resources are spent building hundreds of thousands of new tablets and feeding millions of manual laborers in underground factories.
- Rule of Pool: Blake manages to fall through the bottom of an air vent and into the pool. Laina jumps in after him.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: The governor can add or remove anyone he wants from the Thinning.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The rich/talented kids have an uncanny ability to pass despite their seemingly lacking intelligence, which is suggested to be the result of their parents having enough money to buy their freedom. This fails two of the students, when the Governor decides to throw them, and his son, under the bus to shift the blame and keep his presidential bid.
- Sequel Hook: Ellie's alive and working in a mysterious underground facility, and the Thinning doesn't kill people. So what's going on?
- Springtime for Hitler: Blake deliberately tries to fail, only to pass regardless of his efforts. He takes this as proof that his father likely intervened to keep him out of the Thinning.
- Take That!: To standardized testing and testing-oriented education, when Laina mentions that studying for the test does little to prepare students for real life.
- United Nations Is a Superpower: Apparently, the UN has enough authority to force countries to abide by their Population Control demands.