Movie Review – BackTrack Boys

Australian filmmaker Catherine Scott makes a heartfelt documentary that looks into how troubled kids can be taken in and taught responsibility by caring for and training dogs.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill 

BackTrack Boys is about a rehabilitation program for troubled youths in New South Wales run by straight-talking Bernie Shakeshaft. The documentary follows three troubled kids, Zak, Tyrson, and Rusty who are all part of the Backtrack program, and their journey in and out of trouble as they struggle to take the lessons they learn through the program and apply them to their dysfunctional home life.

Similar to documentaries focused on groups of people like Jesus Camp and Dying to Live, what really makes BackTrack Boys a documentary worth watching are the characters featured. Director Catherine Scott does a brilliant job at drawing out the personalities of the three featured children and the harsh environments they have grown up in, which would have more than likely led them to a life in jail. Whether it be good-natured Zak who has worked his way through the Backtrack program to become a leader; Tyrson who regressed after leaving the program and wound up in jail for a couple of years; and the youngest of the group, Rusty whose foul-mouthed, tall tales are tolerated by the others as they realise he’s just a young kid who hasn’t had the easiest start to life.

The program itself is interesting in that Shakeshaft pairs the kids with a dog that they are expected to train, feed and prepare for local shows in events like high jump wall. The idea is that the dogs don’t judge the kids but instead give them a sense of responsibility. Intermingled in this are campfire heart-to-hearts, where the boys share stories, their feelings and fears when they’re ready to. It’s group theory done in a trusting environment and it’s Shakeshaft straight-talking both around the campfire and in private with the boys that helps them take responsibility for their actions, and more importantly, their lives.

The documentary is beautifully shot and Scott manages to get access to a lot of areas to really capture the kids’ realities (including the juvenile prison). Ultimately the documentary is about second chances and showing that there are alternatives for troubled kids, and that whilst these alternatives might be a bit left of field, they may just be the best circumstances for these kids to learn and grow into responsible adults.

BackTrack Boys  is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 (Western Australia limited release 27th -29th Oct)

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

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Part 2: Revelation Perth International Film Festival 2018

Here’s the next set of reviews for the Rev Fest screenings for the coming week end! Screening from July 5-18, this is your chance to check out the latest and greatest in independent cinema. Featuring films and documentaries from Australia and all over the world, here’s a snippet of what’s on offer!

Get revved up!

Beast
Drama 
UK

A beautiful, intense film from first-time feature director Michael Pearce.

Elle Cahill

BEAST 1.jpg

Beast follows the story of Moll, a loner misfit who’s domineering family control every aspect of her life. After a mysterious stranger, Pascal Renouf, saves her one-day from a sexual predator, she’s immediately drawn to him, and starts a passionate relationship with him. The discovery of a young girl’s body, however, makes Moll start to question just how well she knows Pascal and if there’s something sinister lying beneath his quiet demeanour.

Jessie Buckley plays Moll to perfection. She manages to encapsulate all of the years of damages that Moll has, and her slightly unhinged characterisation has you constantly guessing about how accurate her version of events are. Johnny Flynn matches Buckley’s performance, adding a quiet intensity to Pascal and an air of all the things left unsaid. It’s quite a departure from his comedic, happy-go-lucky character Dylan in the TV series Lovesick, and it’s exciting to see him take on a completely different role.

The story is gripping and tender all at the same time, and Benjamin Kracun’s cinematography is stunning. His attention to capturing both the beauty and the isolation of the location is flawless, and its shot in the way that you can feel the distance between the minor characters, particularly Moll’s family, and equally the closeness the pair of them have.

Beast is a fantastic film that manages to get under your skin as well as stun you with its beauty. Writer-director Michael Pearce is definitely one to watch, especially if he keeps putting out films to this calibre.


RocKabul
Documentary 
AUS

Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band, District Unknown, is determined to bring music to the people, no matter the costs.

Elle Cahill

RocKabul 3 .jpg

RocKabul follows the journey of Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band, District Unknown, and the political and cultural challenges they have to compete with in order to be able to play their music. With the help of director Travis Beard, the band are given the opportunity to play their music not only in Afghanistan, but at festivals in India as well. Unfortunately, as Western forces pull out of Afghanistan and their safety becomes comprised by the Taliban, the band has to decide how important playing their music is to them.

RocKabul is an interesting study into how people living in the war zones in the Middle East become accustom to regular bombings and accept it as a fact of life. While the music component is prominent and has a whimsical feel to it, it’s really seeing how these young men live and try to pursue an activity that has been deemed as sinful that is most interesting.

The documentary doesn’t shy away from some of the harsh realities of the going-ons in Afghanistan, such as footage of bombings, religious acts that could be seen as barbaric, and the band receiving very real threats from officers casually holding machine guns. However, it also doesn’t conform to popularist Western views on the people of Afghanistan, and instead tells a story about a group of young men who were born into an unfortunate situation but still have impossible dreams that they’re determined to achieve. Equally heart warming and harrowing at the same time, this documentary is a must-see


Five Finger Marseilles
Drama
South Africa

Michael Matthews’ Five Fingers for Marseilles is a neo-western that’s every bit as authentic as the westerns of old.

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Five-Fingers-For-Marseilles_6.jpg

Five Fingers for Marseilles is clearly a western, because we identify so much of the genre’s classic imagery – long dustcoats, expansive terrain, shotguns, the local saloon. Yet it’s not just a copy; the movie is about something. It’s set in more recent times, not in Texas or Arizona but in South Africa. Instead of horses there are cars. Its characters are not rip-offs of old western heroes. They have purpose, style, and most importantly, they are dangerously flawed. This is quite an impressive movie by director Michael Matthews that doesn’t yield to its ambition.

The plot begins with five kids who are unhappy their indigenous kin have been shovelled to a hilltop, out of sight, while white settlers take over their land. They vow to rebel, not for the sake of rebellion, but for the respect of their country. Then tragedy strikes, the film jumps 15 years ahead, and the five kids, now adults, have been shaped in one way or another by the harsh realities of their town.

Unathi (Aubrey Poolo), the faithful storyteller, has become a misguided pastor; Bongani (Kenneth Nkosi), the plump little rich kid, has invariably become mayor, hustling about in his Mercedes SUV; Luyanda (Mduduzi Mabaso), picked upon as a kid, is now a ruthless cop; Lerato (Zethu Dlomo) tries desperately to survive; and Tau (Vuyo Dabula), the lion, is our wandering hero, who now has to face the evil forces that threaten to dismantle the memory of his childhood.

One could argue that it doesn’t take a lot of thought to make a western, since the genre is usually defined by what we see and not how we feel. The great westerns, like The Searchers (1956) and Unforgiven (1992), gave us more than just cowboys and horses. Five Fingers doesn’t penetrate the depths of the human soul as well, but it makes a solid attempt, is beautifully crafted, and in the striking figure of its hero Tau finds a character who is simultaneously weak and unbreakable. Great stuff.

To book your tickets go to http://www.revelationfilmfest.org/

 

Images courtesy of Revelation Perth International Film Festival 2018

Movie Review – Cargo

In a post-apocalyptic Australia, Martin Freeman plays Andy, a man roaming the outback desperate to find sanctuary for his daughter before he turns into a zombie. Along the way, he encounters Thoomi a young girl who agrees to help Andy if for nothing more than the company in a vastly decreasing population of unaffected people.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Cargo, from first time filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, follows the story of Andy as he desperately tries to make his way across the outback in a post-apocalyptic Australia to try and get his one-year-old daughter to safety before he succumbs to a zombie virus. Along the way, he meets Thoomi, a young girl who is to protect her zombified father from being killed and who may just be able to help lead him and his daughter to safety.

Zombie films are hard sells nowadays, and a zombie film in the outback an even harder one. With the ever growing list of zombie franchises such as the popular TV series The Walking Dead, iZombie and Santa Clarita Diet, and the endless Resident Evil films, not to mention the standalone films Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead and World War Z (just to name a few), there are few angles left to take.

Surprisingly, Cargo manages to carefully straddle the line between formulaic and unique to present a film that is recognisable enough in its themes and plot for audiences to understand they’re watching a zombie film, but its careful characterisation and location choice ultimately present a different take on the whole zombie epidemic.

Martin Freeman is brilliant as the helpless Andy who’s just trying to keep his family safe. His paternal protectiveness of his young daughter Rosie is his drive throughout the entire film, and is played to such precision that it gives the whole film purpose, that is often missing from traditional zombie films. Newcomer Simone Landers is wonderfully strong and insightful as Thoomi. Her powerful belief in her culture’s traditional rituals is never portrayed as naïve but instead is a sliver of hope in a largely doomed world.

Ultimately this film isn’t about a zombie-virus invasion or white vs. Indigenous culture; it is simply a story of survival, where the outback is no longer a dangerous environment but actually a sanctuary, and where the people remaining are trying to survive in any way they know how. Whilst the film contains the necessary drone shots of the Australian outback for the international viewers, it portrays the outback in a completely different way as well, almost as Australians see it rather than something to be feared.

I’d definitely recommend giving this film a watch, if not for a different take on Australian culture in cinema or a unique offering to the zombie genre, then at least for Martin Freeman owning this role like a boss.

Cargo is available in Australian cinemas from May 17 

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

Movie Review – Breath

A worthy attempt by first-time director Simon Baker to capture a truly Australian story.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

Based on Tim Winton’s novel of the same name, Breath follows two teenage boys in WA’s South West who strike up a friendship with local surfer Sando (Simon Baker). On their search for adventure, the two boys find themselves navigating moral minefields as they struggle to grow into the men they want to be.

Breath has so far been well-received by those familiar with the novel and Winton’s writing. In his feature film directorial debut, Australian actor-turned-director Simon Baker has captured the essence of Winton’s writing style and successfully translated it onto the screen. However, in being so true to the source material, I fear Breath potentially alienates any who lack knowledge of or simply don’t appreciate Winton’s ways of storytelling.

Baker’s film moves at a slow and meandering pace that takes the time to ‘stop and smell the roses’ and express the laidback vibe of 1970’s regional WA. While this approach allows for some beautiful cinematography of the ocean and the landscape, it also means the narrative tends to take a bit of a back seat.

Understand that when I say the story unfolds slowly – I mean it’s glacial. Sitting in the cinema, I became painfully aware of the amount of time it was taking to set up the story and began to wonder if it would all be over before anything really happened. Then, when the conflict finally came, it hit so hard and fast that it felt rushed as it tried to tackle such complex and confronting themes.

Thankfully, the film is somewhat saved by its two lead performances. Cast based on their surfing skills and with no prior acting experience, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence are startlingly good as the two young boys at the centre of the story.

Coulter plays the main protagonist Pikelet and brings a sensitivity and maturity that seasoned actors struggle to conjure. His ability to keep Pikelet’s emotions just below the surface keeps you rooting for him, even when some of his actions are less morally driven.

Pikelet’s quiet sensibility is off-set perfectly by the loud and brash Loonie (Spence), whose knack for wild tales and ocker expressions brings some much-needed comic relief. He is the perfect embodiment of the slightly rougher characters you find in Australian country towns, but whether the character will resonate with international audience is yet to be seen.

How Breath fares at the worldwide Box Office will be the real test. Here we have a classic Australian story and a worthy adaptation, but any lacking context may not connect with it.

Breath is available in Australian cinemas from May 3

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Annihilation

Natalie Portman. Scary Creatures. A dome shaped border that looks like a rainbow sheet of film. Welcome to the world of Annihilation by Alex Garland.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

Annihilation is an unusually neutral experience. It’s one of those films that doesn’t quite reach greatness, but it’s also not terrible. It just leaves you feeling like, um… it was OK

That isn’t to say it isn’t an enjoyable film – Annihilation does some awesome and innovative stuff. But there’s a whole lot of bullshit going on that brings it down to be just another sub-par science fiction flick.

Everyone has been raving about this film, claiming that it “completely challenges you” and is “really thoughtful and intellectual” and yes, it’s smart here and there, but nowhere near the level it’s being praised to be at.

The film has a trend of inconsistency – one that not only shadows the plot, but also, it’s visual aesthetic. The world within the dome can go from a burst of beautiful colours, to a shitty blend of dullness the next. While this may have been an intentional narrative decision, it nevertheless retracts from the entire experience. Wouldn’t it have made just as much sense to keep this world spectacularly designed throughout? It just misses the opportunity to be a fantastic film on a visual scale.

The same path of thinking can be said for the lead performances. Annihilation features three incredible actors, with Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Jason Leigh, but for the most part, each of their performances come across as stale and completely reserved . It does make some sense for Isaac’s character to be this way, but it doesn’t work well for Jennifer Jason Leigh at all. She delivers her lines in a neutral way and it doesn’t even feel like she’s fully there most of the time. Nothing she says seems to carry any motivation in any respect.

The actors can’t take the full blame, the fault ultimately lies with writer/director Alex Garland. Garland has the ability to write some fantastic ideas one second, then completely throws this away the next with some horrendous dialogue.

So overall, I would recommend seeing Annihilation, but it’s a suggestion that comes with no real sense of urgency. This is a very missable film, but if you do end up seeing it on Netflix, there are some aspects to enjoy. Just don’t be surprised if you come away from it and find yourself constantly responding to others with, um… it was OK.

Annihilation is available on Netflix in Australia 

Image courtesy of Peter Mountain, Paramount Pictures & Netflix, Source: IMDb 

Movie Review – Sweet Country

Imagine the most typical Australian film ever and you’ll end up with something that resembles Sweet Country.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

The Australian film industry has always been obsessed with travelling back to colonial times to look at the atrocities and prejudice against Indigenous people. Following his 2009 award-winning film Samson and Delilah, Warwick Thornton continues to add to the likes of Rabbit-Proof Fence and Ten Canoes with his latest film Sweet Country.

Set in the Northern Territory in the 1920s, Sweet Country follows Sam (Hamilton Morris), a middle-aged Aboriginal farmer who kills a local white man in self-defence. Knowing his side of the story will be quickly dismissed by the law, Sam decides to go on the run with his wife, and the subsequent manhunt for Sam soon turns into a hunt for the true meaning of justice.

As Australians, we are proud to live in a country where freedom and peace are the standard way of life, but these values have been and continue to be denied to some. While not as powerful or relatable as Thornton’s modern retelling of the biblical Samson and Delilah, Sweet Country does serve as a reminder that we must never forget our roots, no matter how tough it may be to stomach.

In terms of storytelling, however, Sweet Country is a relatively stock standard affair. It’s a well-made piece of filmmaking, but it fails to truly captivate, mostly because we’ve seen better films handle the same subject matter in the past.

Sweet Country is still a worthy addition to Australian cinema, mostly thanks to its stunning cinematography. As he did with Samson and Delilah, Thornton once again takes on the duties of director and cinematographer, but this time around he has truly upped the ante. From vivid, orange sunsets to wide, sweeping shots of dense bushland and the red outback, the Australian landscape is on full display here.

Production designer Tony Cronin and costume designer Heather Wallace also deserve commendation for their faithful representation of the era, not only in what it looked like, but also in what it felt like. Those were tough times, and the sweat on people’s brows, and the dirt on their clothes works well to recreate the hardship experienced by people back then.

Sweet Country isn’t the most exciting film, but it is an important reminder for the pain and hard truths we will always face as Australians.

Sweet Country is available in Australian cinemas from January 25 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Who Should’ve Won At The AACTAs

Josip Knezevic 

The AACTAs, Australia’s version of the Oscars, celebrate the finest achievements in Australian cinema. 2017 brought us a strong pool of nominees that represent a bright future for Australian film, and while these films won’t put Australia on the international film map as say Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand, they’re still remarkable achievements for Australian filmmaking.

Yes, you may be thinking the AACTAs took place in December last year, but seeing as it’s Australia Day long weekend, it seems apt to look back at who won versus who should have won and honour the greatest Australian films of 2017.

Best Film
Winner: Lion
Who Should Have Won: Ali’s Wedding

From the outset, it was obvious that Lion was going to take this top spot, as it did in so many categories. It boasts a much larger production budget than its fellow nominees and also features some of the world’s biggest stars in Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel and Rooney Mara. I can’t complain that it won, it’s a beautiful and gut-wrenching story, but at the same time, Ali’s Wedding represents a fresh breath of air for Australian storytelling and the depiction of our culture on screen. Yes, it may just be a simple love story on the surface, but it has so many little charms and quirks that make it genuinely funny and interesting to watch. It would have been a very deserving winner.

Best Direction
Winner: Lion (Garth Davis)
Who Should Have Won: Hounds of Love (Ben Young)

Although I enjoyed the emotional journey Garth Davis took us upon in Lion, I can’t help but feel that Ben Young’s skills should have been recognised here, and not just because his film Hounds of Love was filmed in WA. Most of his film takes place within the walls of a small home and focuses on the relationship between two emotionally twisted and disturbed serial killers. Young shows great restraint throughout the film, tending to let your imagination take over, rather than simply showing a lot of graphic violence. He creates a lot of tension and directs some skillful, emotional performances from his leads all on a very small budget. I’m looking forward to seeing him take on bigger projects in the future.

Best Lead Actor
Winner: Sunny Pawar (Lion)
Who Should Have Won: Sunny Pawar (Lion)

Cuteness will always reign supreme. 9-year-old Sunny Pawar took out the Best Lead actor category and I agree wholeheartedly with this choice. Let’s hope this child protégé continues his acting success as an adult.

Best Lead Actress
Winner: Emma Booth (Hounds of Love)
Who Should Have Won: Emma Booth (Hounds of Love)

Without Emma Booth’s powerhouse performance, Hounds of Love would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable. Booth brought an emotional delicacy to her serial killer role that encouraged sympathy towards her, despite her horrendous pursuits. Ever since her days on TV’s Underbelly she’s proven herself to be a fantastic actress, and I’m glad she’s getting recognition for her work on the big screen.

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Dev Patel (Lion)
Who Should Have Won: Dev Patel (Lion)

Much like Emma Booth’s strong example in Hounds of Love, Dev Patel has such a powerful and resonating performance in Lion that without him, I doubt the film could have reached the same strong ending. Together, him and Sunny Pawar made a fine team on their emotional journey to find their way home. Patel has gone from strength to strength ever since his lead performance in Slumdog Millionaire

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Who Should Have Won: Nicole Kidman (Lion)

The Lion train continues, and the fine performances on offer in this film should make everyone jump on board. Lion is a prime example of what happens when you put together a cast of A-list Hollywood actors and everything clicks. Nicole Kidman plays the mother who adopts a young Indian refugee, and her wisdom as an experienced actor brings an emotional connection to the film that would not have been anywhere near as strong without her.

 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Swinging Safari

Outrageously crude, Swinging Safari is an insane look at Australia in the 70’s.

⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp 

It says a lot that Swinging Safari feels the need to excuse itself. The opening narration by Richard Roxburgh recalls that the 70’s were a time without political correctness or helicopter parenting. If anything depicted offends you, deal with it because it’s a true story. In other words, Safari knows that it’ll be controversial, but tries to sidestep that criticism with “it was the 70’s”. If you accept that excuse, you’ll have a grand old time, but if you think that isn’t good enough to justify some truly horrific decisions, steer well clear.

Safari is ostensibly about 14-year-old Jeff Marsh (Atticus Robb) coming of age in mid-70’s Australia. Jeff is a budding filmmaker and loves using his super eight camera to capture his mates doing death-defying stunts. He’s also in love with Melly (Darcey Wilson), a young girl suffering from anxiety and depression. Together, Melly and Jeff form Safari’s emotional core as they deal with absentee parents and the manic energy of their suburban cul-de-sac. Their parents, meanwhile, function as the film’s comedic core, letting loose at key parties and outrageously feuding between themselves – prawns in hubcaps, tampering with tan creams, that kind of thing.

To the film’s credit, Safari can be quite funny. There’s no denying that when writer/director Stephan Elliott aims for satirical nostalgia, he hits the nail on the head. His beach scenes in particular – all KFC, cask wine, and sunburn – are excellent vehicles for this. The fact that he’s aiming to be honest about the era helps here because it gives everything a gonzo vibe – fast, authentic, and wild.

Unfortunately, the well frequently gets poisoned by Elliott’s attempts to depict the deeper issues of his generation. It isn’t enough to joke about K-tel products, Safari also wants you to laugh at the grimier aspects of the 70’s, like alcoholism and depression. In portraying these problems, Elliott creates tonal issues that he doesn’t have the skill to navigate.

Melly is the most egregious example of this. She has mental health issues – she’s never hungry and is often separate from the other children because she’s openly depressed. The film treats this issue with all the grace of a beached whale because that’s how the era treated it. People punish and bully Melly for her problems, but Elliott doesn’t do anything to denounce that because “it was the 70’s, deal with it.” It’s horrible to watch, even more so when it’s played against the aforementioned nostalgic tone.

Ultimately, Safari’s biggest problems boil down to Elliott ignoring basic screenwriting rules to get a more accurate depiction of the era (Safari doesn’t have a real plot because the 70’s were a plotless generation). That’s not entirely a bad thing, since it allows for a frenetic pace that some will enjoy, but it also makes the film harder to follow, and a lot of the emotional beats don’t get the care they deserve. If a frenzied and crudely funny take on 70’s Australia sounds like a good night out to you, you’ll love what Swinging Safari offers. Just remember that you’ll have to stomach the worst tendencies of the era as well.

Swinging Safari is available in Australian cinemas from January 18 

Image courtesy of Becker Film Group 

Movie Review – Three Summers

Three Summers is determined to bring a sunny disposition to the thorniest of political topics.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Let’s get this out of the way quick-smart: for some people, Three Summers will not be an easy film. It should be – it’s a comedy, after all – but it’s also an unreservedly left-wing perspective on Australia that will rub certain people up the wrong way. It wears its politics on its sleeve in almost every scene, and you’ll either laugh along with it or get frustrated when it (regularly) dismisses conservative opinions. In other words, it’s a Ben Elton film.

Written and directed by Elton, Three Summers is a film about Australia and its stories. Accordingly, it follows a variety of groups at the fictional Westival music festival. There’s the feisty Warrikins (Rebecca Breeds, John Waters); Roland the Theremin player (Robert Sheehan); the Morris dancers led by Michael Caton; Queenie the relentlessly sunny radio announcer (Magda Szubanski); and about half a dozen other plotlines, all converging on the same campgrounds over three years.

It’s impressive just how well Elton manages to juggle it all. Considering the number of ideas he’s throwing around, it would’ve been easy for the film to descend into a preachy soup. Instead, thanks to the extended timespan, there’s always a fresh joke around the corner. Revisiting these characters over multiple years affords us the chance to watch them grow and adjust naturally. A punk band dwindles, an AA meeting grows, and certain events challenge the community dynamic in surprising ways. Through it all, a warmly empathetic optimism brings the disparate groups together.

That optimism is what ultimately ties the film together. Elton himself has made it clear that he wanted to make a nice film – something lovely and warm – and that ethos shines through. Even when the film is confronting Australia’s thorniest conversations – the refugee crisis, Aboriginal marginalisation – it remains upbeat and acknowledges them as decipherable problems. They aren’t just rocks and hard places, they are people, and people deserve love and respect.

With so many stories it’s also inevitable that some of them won’t get the time they deserve. Aboriginal marginalisation, for instance, is a complex topic that is ill-suited to a comedy that can’t focus on it. One of the children wears an ankle-monitor which is played for a single laugh but never properly addressed. That’s practically the definition of lip-service, and it’s not the only instance of it. Elton is sincere in his desire to confront difficult issues, and his attempts are at least commendable, but the problems are also much bigger than he can manage in an already busy film.

Conservatives will bristle, but lefties will laugh at the shenanigans in Three Summers. It’s not a perfect film – Elton would do well to narrow his scope next time – but it’s genuine where it counts. It’s a kind-hearted comedy with some wonderful performances (Szubanski is just lovely) and a gorgeously Australian setting. It’s the perfect film for an outdoor screening on a warm summer’s eve so expect it to remain a mainstay of those events for years to come.

 

Three Summers is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films 2017

 

Movie Review – Killing Ground

Damien Power’s maiden voyage is often smooth and gripping, but lacks the on-board facilities to truly dazzle.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

About midway through Killing Ground, the debut feature from Damien Power, we realise we’ve been taken for a ride. Here is a dark, bloody, disturbing picture, told out of order, about two scumbag weirdos who skulk around the woods of the Australian outback terrorising innocent campers. Why? Because they can, I suppose. If Mr. Power believes humans harbour within an inherent taste for senseless evil, his two villains here should be studied as specimens. I’m inclined to think otherwise, which makes Killing Ground a bit baseless.

I love a good thriller, and this is a confident and well-made one. But I need to make sense of the violence that happens within. Killing Ground can trace its ancestry directly to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), one of the cruellest and most eerie of films, but what it’s missing is the insanity of Chainsaw’s mayhem. That was a movie about a cannibalistic family in the middle of nowhere, driven mad by each other and the stench of death. The baddies in Killing Ground are neither cannibals nor insane. They are simply despicable, which might be the point, but Power doesn’t put a big enough stamp on it.

The plot traces three stories: one of Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer), a chemistry-free lovey-dovey couple set to see in the new year in a tent; the family of Margaret (Maya Stange), Rob (Julian Garner), Em (Tiarnie Coupland) and little Ollie; and the two psychos, German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenane). The structure of the narrative sets the scene, and as it unfolds, pieces come together and some questions (not enough) are answered.

The film cedes its promising beginnings when it eventually becomes linear and turns into a run-of-the-mill slasher thriller in which the crazy bad guys pillage, rape, plunder and otherwise make camping very inconvenient for the enamoured couple. There is a shootout, a stand-off, a hostage crisis, some chases (both on foot and on wheels) and a very strange open-ended resolution that hints at a future more uncertain than the present.

And yet Killing Ground is a film with potential. It engendered uneasy feelings in me, but it lacks that ultimate spark of genius to make me think twice about my next camping trip. Both Pedersen and Glenane are convincing as menacing cavemen, and they share a few scenes in which they openly fret over the dangers of getting caught. But if they were truly mad, if they really believed in what they were doing, they would have flaunted their trophies for the world to see instead of making theirs a clandestine hobby. It would have upped the stakes because they’d have nothing to lose. And I would have been completely sold.

Killing Ground is available in Australian cinemas from August 24 

Image courtesy of Mushroom Pictures