In a post-Columbine world, the idea of disaffected teenagers dealing with sudden outbursts of violence and tragedy has understandably captivated a number of filmmakers. Gus Van Sant may have set the benchmark with his literal Columbine movie and Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Elephant – a radical experiment that created an atmosphere both coolly detached and disturbingly immediate to depict that fateful day. Now comes Flemish director Bas Devos’s debut feature, Violet, which actually hews closer to Paranoid Park, a subsequent Van Sant study in teenage ennui after a tragic incident, swapping out skateboards for BMX bikes.

During a seemingly normal day at the mall, 15-year-old Jesse’s friend, Jonas, is stabbed and killed right in front of him by another couple of unknown teens. The attackers run off, leaving Jesse unharmed, but now he has to resume his everyday life and rejoin his BMX crew friends. Most of them sympathize with his ordeal but some are more skeptical, wondering why he didn’t do more in the moment, planting a seed of guilt that Jesse struggles with.

Violet is a movie entirely concerned with the emotions bubbling right under the surface. There isn’t much dialogue here (and when there is, a lot of it is purposely inaudible), as Devos is more interested in letting small actions and facial expressions cut to the core of Jesse and the circle of people around him. Meanwhile, scenes linger and fade into the next with the haziness of a dream. The mood is everything here – like any quality filmmaker, Devos wants us to feel the effects of PTSD, not explain it to us. The result is an impressively cinematic experience.

What you take away from Violet depends on how far you can sink into this experience. There’s very little to concretely grasp on to, but I don’t doubt that Jesse’s inner turmoil has been accurately represented. At 82 minutes, the film is a little bit on the slight side and I would say that Devos cribs too much from Van Sant at times, but overall it’s a pretty strong first showing.

If nothing else, the cinematography from Nicolas Karakatsanis (Bullhead, Cub, The Drop) is worth the price of admission alone. Shooting partially on 65mm film, he creates some of the more stunning images I’ve seen lately, whether it’s of BMX kids flying off jumps in the woods, a crowd at a metal concert, or the lights from a house illuminated against the darkness of the night. Additionally, the way the camera glides through the sleepy suburban setting gives off an eerie ghostly vibe – maybe it’s Jonas, hovering over the people he left behind.