The easily offended might avert their eyes, but they’d be missing the most outrageously funny, painfully relevant and shockingly accurate portrait of Australian culture the big screen has seen in years – possibly ever.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
It’s the aftermath of the 2005 Cronulla riots – the violent, racially fuelled outbreaks started by the opposing youth gangs of Sydney’s white and Lebanese factions – and tension, anger and hatred hangs stingingly in the air. Two motley crews of racist, belligerent hotheads assemble; one, the white supremacists led by über-bogan Jason (Damon Herriman); the other, the ‘wog’ retaliators consisting of hard-studying Hassim (Lincoln Younes) and his best friend Nick (Rahel Romahn) among others. Each team acquires a vehicle and whatever weapons they can find for an evening of assault and bloodshed against the opposite ethnicity, unaware that their paths are destined to cross before the night is through.
If Abe Forsythe’s (Ned, Laid) pitch-black comedy Down Under seems stupid, xenophobic and engineered to offend, it’s entirely exclusive to its surface. Peel back the layers, and you’ll find that there’s perhaps no other film to so honestly capture the inherently racist underbelly of Australian culture. These abhorrent characters are thrown at us in full-fletched idiocy without judgement, but boy, are we meant to judge them. It’s a completely subjective deconstruction of the nation’s lower-class bogan lifestyles and lunacy, sharpened by a strong edge of clever satire and self-awareness that elevates it far above typically low-brow lampoonery like Fat Pizza and Housos.
The hyper-violence on display is startlingly jaw-dropping to watch, but through its depiction of hate-fuelled brutality and its devastating effect on people, it highly effectively drives home a strong anti-racism and bloodshed message. As a bonus, it’s suspenseful, enthralling and unpredictable, with complicated, conflicted characters, a stunning visual aesthetic and expertly utilised music and pop culture references of its era. Oh, and it’s hilariously funny, of course.
You can’t really like any of these characters, but there’s an amazing level of depth drawn in what could have been sketchy caricatures. Lincoln Younes’ Hassim is probably the closest thing the film has to a moral compass, but even he isn’t above being swept away in the violence and ferocity when it comes down to a dangerous encounter. Having so many compelling characters means that some sadly have their arcs cut short when it is time for the inevitable showdown, but thanks to evenly-balanced moments for each to shine throughout, the finale makes for a satisfying conclusion.
Thanks to the hugely confident handling of shocking and controversial subject matter, Abe Forsythe has concocted a timely piece of socially conscious ingenuity, with the added merit to boost it to an instant Aussie classic. It’s a film that begs to be discussed and debated, and one that every Australian should see.
Down Under is available in Australian cinemas from August 11
Image courtesy of StudioCanal