7th AACTA Awards: A One Horse Race

Corey Hogan 

Last Wednesday night, the 7th annual ceremony of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (and 58th incarnation of what was once the Australian Film Institute Awards) took a hold of Channel 7. This year the AACTAs staked their claim as Australia’s Oscars equivalent not only by celebrating excellent films and talent in front of and behind the cameras, but also by getting caught up in a bit of controversy.

The shadow of the enormous, ongoing sexual harassment scandal in Hollywood loomed large over the evening – a likely precursor to the effect it will have on next year’s big awards ceremonies in Los Angeles. Only a week or so prior to the awards, AACTA founder Geoffrey Rush stepped down as president amidst abuse allegations, though whether he did so willingly or was forced remains to be seen given his new defamation suit against The Daily Telegraph. Mention of the actor was mostly avoided at the awards, save for Rachel Griffiths’ defence that “Geoffrey Rush is not Harvey Weinstein”.

Elsewhere, Russell Crowe took the opportunity he had on stage to recount a poorly timed anecdote of accidentally sodomising his co-star and nominee Jacqueline McKenzie during the filming of a sex scene on the set of Romper Stomper. The graphic story, in which Crowe revealed to a room full of professionals that his “bits and pieces were in a little canvas sack with a drawstring”, wound up axed from Channel 7’s broadcast; given that it was more squirm than laugh-inducing – this was probably for the best. Sophie Monk and Osamah Sami were not so lucky; their painfully awkward comedic banter in an attempt to ridicule the industry for its lack of diversity was met with crickets – ironically, this forced them to cut forward to presenting the Best Performance in a Comedy award.

Otherwise, it was business as usual. Continuing the AACTA’s trope of favouring the film with the greatest international success, Lion predictably took home the lion’s share of the awards, winning in all twelve categories (Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Sound, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design) it was nominated for. At least this felt deserved, and gave us an adorable moment as nine-year-old Sunny Pawar fulfilled his fellow nominee Stephen Curry’s prediction to become the youngest person ever to win Best Lead Actor.

Outside of the reigning champion, Andrew Knight and Osamah Sami were given a little love, winning Best Original Screenplay for Ali’s Wedding, and Emma Booth received Best Lead Actress for her sinister role in Hounds of Love, beating out Teresa Palmer in the similarly-themed Berlin Syndrome. It’s always a little monotonous when one film is constantly seeing the light of the podium, but the moments in between, both sour and sweet, at least kept this year’s AACTAs interesting.

Here’s a full list of the nominees and winners of every category in the AACTA’s feature film division.

Best Film
Lion
Ali’s Wedding
Berlin Syndrome
Hounds of Love
Jasper Jones

Best Director
Garth Davis (Lion)
Jeffrey Walker (Ali’s Wedding)
Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome)
Ben Young (Hounds of Love)

Best Original Screenplay
Andrew Knight & Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding)
Priscilla Cameron (The Butterfly Tree)
Cris Jones (The Death and Life of Otto Bloom)
Ben Young (Hounds of Love)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Luke Davies (Lion)
Shaun Grant (Berlin Syndrome)
James Greville, Ursula Cleary & Anne Brooksbank (Don’t Tell)
Shaun Grant & Craig Silvey (Jasper Jones)

Best Lead Actor
Sunny Pawar (Lion)
Stephen Curry (Hounds of Love)
Ewen Leslie (The Butterfly Tree)
Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding)

Best Lead Actress
Emma Booth (Hounds of Love)
Teresa Palmer (Berlin Syndrome)
Helana Sawires (Ali’s Wedding)
Sara West (Don’t Tell)

Best Supporting Actor
Dev Patel (Lion)
Don Hany (Ali’s Wedding)
Jack Thompson (Don’t Tell)
Hugo Weaving (Jasper Jones)

Best Supporting Actress
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Frances Duca (Ali’s Wedding)
Jacqueline McKenzie (Don’t Tell)
Susie Porter (Hounds of Love)

Best Cinematography
Greig Fraser (Lion)
Michael McDermott (Hounds of Love)
Stefan Duscio (Jungle)
Geoffrey Hall (Red Dog: True Blue)

Best Editing
Alexandre de Franceschi (Lion)
Nick Meyers (Australia Day)
Jack Hutchings (Berlin Syndrome)
Merlin Eden (Hounds of Love)

Best Original Music Score
Volker Bertelmann & Dustin O’Halloran (Lion)
Nigel Westlake (Ali’s Wedding)
Bryony Marks (Berlin Syndrome)
Caitlin Yeo (The Butterfly Tree)

Best Sound
Robert Mackenzie, Glenn Newnham, Nakul Kamte, Andrew Ramage, James Ashton & Mario Vaccaro (Lion)
Liam Egan, Trevor Hope, Robert Sullivan, Yulia Akerholt, James Andrews & Les Fiddess (Jasper Jones)
Serge Lacroix, Cate Cahill & Francis Byrne (The Killing Ground)
Wayne Pashley, Rick Lisle, Fabian Sanjurgo, Michael Smanick & Gregg Landaker (The Lego Batman Movie)

Best Production Design
Chris Kennedy (Lion)
Melinda Doring (Berlin Syndrome)
Ben Morieson (The Death and Life of Otto Bloom)
Herbert Pinter (Jasper Jones)

Best Costume Design
Cappi Ireland (Lion)
Maria Pattison (Berlin Syndrome)
Tess Schofield (Dance Academy: The Movie)
Margot Wilson (Jasper Jones)

Image courtesy of Mark Metcalfe, (c) 2017 Getty Images

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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 – Jigsaw

Despite dying all the way back in Saw III, Jigsaw is back for an eighth twisted and gruesome game after a lengthy absence.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

More than a decade has passed since John Kramer, a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) – the man notorious for kidnapping people and putting them in traps that force them to mutilate themselves to escape death as a means of creating a newfound appreciation for life – and his circle of successors all met grisly ends. The violence has ceased, until now; as police shoot down a petty thug, a triggering mechanism is activated and sets in motion a new game played by five people trapped in a remote barn filled with diabolically lethal things at every turn. Mangled bodies start turning up, and as the investigative team, including Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and forensic doctors Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) dig deeper, all the evidence points to the late Jigsaw as the perpetrator.

It wasn’t too much of a stretch to predict that 2010’s Saw 3D was never going to be The Final Chapter as it claimed; nothing in Hollywood, especially in the horror genre (and especially one of the horror genre’s highest-grossing franchises) ever stays dead anymore, so by that logic Jigsaw was always inevitable. The good news is that its source is one of the genre’s most inventive, if not for the faint of heart series, and despite it having narratively driven itself into a dead end, this belated eighth entry manages to breathe a bit of new life into its corpse, doing its many fans justice and pulling off a few neat tricks of its own.

Taking the reins from its Australian creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell (who remain as producers) is, appropriately, another Aussie horror filmmaking duo, The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination). Their biggest adjustment to proceedings is the visual style – gone is the grainy, low-grade camerawork, grungy bathrooms and rust as far as the eye can see, updated with slick cinematography and, for the first time, shiny and new-looking killing instruments. The Spierigs are aware that audience expectations have changed since Saw last soaked our screens in blood, and so the story deviates from the usual formula too; we follow the police investigation equally as much as the victims of the latest game, veering slightly away from the torture-porn trappings that later entries became and closer to the psychological thrills of the first film.

Which is not to say that Jigsaw isn’t gory; there are new traps here that rank up there with the series’ stomach-churning best, from the body-shredding spiral blade contraption to the flesh-cutting laser collars – fans can rest easy with the amount of blood and guts spilled. Pleasingly, after being sidelined for so long, the iconic Jigsaw himself takes centre stage once again, with the mystery of how exactly he has returned forming the core of the plot. Bell still dominates in his signature role, and the story that once again explores his backstory alongside his legacy makes a franchise that felt all out of places to go feel like it actually has plenty of fresh directions to take us in.

Updates aside, this is still quintessentially Saw, which does mean it shares the series problems too; most of which usually boil down to its writing. Though tricksy, it’s always relied on quite a large suspension of disbelief given the huge coincidences that cause everything to fall into place just right and push each plot point into place, and Jigsaw is no different. Again, the twist ending is awfully contrived and frankly ridiculous if you put even a smidgen of thought into it.

But though it doesn’t quite reach the franchise high point, Jigsaw surpasses a good portion of the sequels and exceeds expectations; though it won’t win Saw many new fans, and its potential as a series reboot remains to be seen, this is an interesting and satisfying enough long-awaited follow-up.

Jigsaw is available in Australian cinemas from November 02

 Image courtesy of Studio Canal Australia 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 

 

Interview: Rob Livings – Two People

Thomas Munday 

Two People has, in every sense of the term, something for everyone. A twenty-something girl (Liberty Hills) takes some time out from domesticity to wander bars and comedy stores in Northbridge alone. She strikes up a conversation with a comedian (Nick Pages-Oliver) and after missing the last train home, the two begin an elongated conversation throughout the middle of the night.

Director, editor and co-writer Rob Livings peaks into the average twenty-something’s mind in this low-budget, walking-and-talking feature that was shot over four nights in the Perth CBD and Northbridge. Filmed in black and white, Livings and co’s latest utilises the budget, gear and location at their disposal to a desired effect.

Livings chatted with Hooked on Film about his cast, production challenges and how one night can change our lives.

TM: How did you conceive of the idea for the film?

RL: With Two People, I don’t think it was ever intended to be what it became, we were just like ‘let’s try and make a feature for nothing and we’ll just do it overnight, a couple of nights a week and figure it out as we go and do it in an improvised fashion’. We just held a little meeting about it, everyone was keen and then it just went from there. So, it was very much – ‘Let’s get together, shoot it chronologically and see what happens’.

It’s a very simple idea but it was a matter of whether we could pull it off the way we wanted to, we were like: ‘Let’s shoot it multi-cam, let’s treat it so when we’re editing it’s just dumping in a timeline’. There’s so many ways to move quickly in production, but there is not many ways to make a film quickly in post-production, so let’s try and find a way to find an answer for both of those.

TM: How was it to go from shorter-form projects to feature filmmaking?

RL: Switching to feature film was good, but it was just more targeting a new way of making a movie, so fully improvising the dialogue, going against what you learn in film school – basically, taking what you’ve learned from a technical aspect and throwing away everything else and building over. It was really fun and exciting to do something different, – shooting at night when no one is around. It was like Northbridge became this canvas we could do whatever we wanted with.

TM: A lot of the movie feels realistic, how much was scripted before filming and how much was improvised on set?

RL: Every bit of dialogue is improvised, we knew we had a start and we had an ending. We knew where we were going to be shooting because we had access to certain places. The film was set around who we knew and what we had and that’s kind of the point when you’re working for no money, you’ve just got to make the most of what you’ve got.

This film was very much a ‘make it up as you go’, but just let’s get to that ending and let’s get to the finish line however we need to. If things were steering in one direction we’d make sure they went back the other way. I’d say 90% of it happened whilst we were filming and the 10% was planned so it was very, very loose and I was just happy to see where it took us.

TM: How does Perth stand out as a good movie setting?

RL: I love Perth and like everyone in Perth. People have complained about the quiet nature of Perth many times. I think Perth works really well, I would encourage people to shoot at night here because there is literally no one around so you can kind of just create this world if you go to the right spots. For me, in this film they seem like they are alone and on their own, even within the bar there is a couple of people there. That whole quiet nature of Perth really works to people’s benefit, so you don’t have to deal with sound issues or the issues that you might have in a busy city like Sydney or Melbourne.

TM: This movie relies entirely on interaction, why is human behaviour so pertinent to drama, comedy and cinema in general?

RL: I think you can be your own character, anyone can reference with it. The characters in this film are so realistic and so down to Earth. I know that’s something that might push some people away, they might not want to relate to real life; they might want to go in there and watch something that takes them out of what is going on, but it is interesting to see people in this vulnerable state where they are willing to kind of open up. Well, at least, Liberty’s character was vulnerable whereas Nick’s was a bit more guarded. That’s just two different types of people and when you put them together it’s an interesting situation.

Image courtesy of Rob Livings 

Top Knot Detective – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Riotously funny, Top Knot Detective is what happens when you watch too much late-night SBS.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp 

It’s hard to describe Top Knot Detective to the uninitiated. Its list of influences includes Power Rangers, midnight SBS insanity and legendarily bad films like The Room. Imagine a mockumentary retrospective on Kung Fury, and you’ll have some grasp of what you’re in for. If those things don’t float your boat, the exit is to your right. For everyone else, Top Knot Detective is brilliant and it deserves to be on your must-see list.

Top Knot details the rise and fall of fictional 90’s Japanese TV show Ronin Suiri Tentai (Deductive Reasoning Ronin), zeroing in on the show’s creator/director/star/writer Takashi Tawagoto (Toshi Okuzaki), who is described as “Errol Flynn without the STD’s or the talent”. Through interviews with his co-stars and the show’s crew, the film builds a fascinating and hilarious portrait of a young man swept up in the creative process.

There are so many things to love about Top Knot. The number of jokes per minute is phenomenal, and just about each one lands perfectly. On top of that, the level of care on display is remarkable. From the acting to the background details, everything around the show is on-point. Even the tie-in advertisements and archive photos feel beautifully real, and you’ll often forget that everything you’re seeing has come directly from the minds of directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce. Top Knot Detective isn’t just a send-up of cheap, over the top Japanese cinema, it’s McCann and Pearce’s love letter to the genre. Theirs is a world of giant penis monsters, talk shows with cats, and gloriously ridiculous (and ridiculously gory) action scenes. If that sentence interests you, Top Knot Detective cannot be recommended enough.

Top Knot Detective is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July)

Image courtesy of Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and Revelation Film Festival 

Descent into the Maelstrom – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Descent into the Malestrom is a high energy journey into the success, and failings, of 70’s Aussie rock’n’roll band Radio Birdman.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

In 1974 in Sydney, a young American man named Deniz Tek formed the band Radio Birdman with Rob Younger. Following the recruitment of four other members, Radio Birdman went on to cause a stir in the Australian music scene, with their unconventional take on rock’n’roll and their determination to stay true to their original brand of music. Whilst the band had a short run of success, with the members of the band choosing to part ways in 1978, they became the influence for many mainstream Australian bands.

The genius of Descent into the Maelstrom lies in director Jonathan Sequeira’s complete understanding of the band. There are so many elements at play that are carefully hidden behind the guise of a historical documentary as Sequeira explores the band’s rise to fame. But this documentary offers so much more, and much like the music of Radio Birdman, it refuses to stick to traditional documentary conventions.

The first half of the documentary is littered with wild tales as retold by the band members, now well into their 60’s, and discusses their struggle to be taken seriously in the music scene. There is an incredible archive of footage and photos from Radio Birdman’s performances, which makes up the majority of the visual content for the documentary, but it’s the clever use of storyboard animations that help to fill the gaps in the footage that adds a little extra something, and makes the documentary slightly unusual.

The second half of the documentary takes on a quiet, reflective state as the band are picked up by a label and begin touring internationally in 1977. The more they tour, the more the cracks in the group become irreparable, and this is supported with a definite change in mood in the present-day interviews as the band members become more solemn and disgruntled about how Radio Birdman ended.

Descent into the Maelstrom does well in immersing the audience into this world of rock’n’roll, but there’s also a certain amount of assumed knowledge that is expected of the audience. Knowledge of the state of the Australian music scene at this time is helpful, as well as knowing a bit about the punk scene, both on an international scale, and on a more local, Australian scale. There’s a lot of reminiscing about forgotten bands and pubs that no longer exist, which can leave you missing the significance of these details if you’re just that bit too young.

Descent into the Maelstrom, much like Radio Birdman’s music and band ethos, is raw, gritty and unorthodox, but it’s the honest portrayal of the highs and lows of Radio Birdman’s short rise to fame, and subsequent conflict within the band, that makes this documentary so interesting.

Descent into the Maelstrom is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July)

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment & Revelation Film Festival

Watch The Sunset – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Watch the Sunset is a remarkable achievement that maintains a gripping momentum… almost until the end.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

The one-take genre of drama is small; its most oft-cited works being Victoria and Russian Ark. It’s a format that lends itself to intense realism, but is also hampered by logistical constraints. Watch the Sunset, filmed over the course of an afternoon in Kerang, Victoria, delivers the former in spades, but fails to overcome the trappings of its genre.

The film opens with a brief montage of documentary footage on the drug ice, giving context to the film’s first scene: a man, Danny (Tristan Barr), driving a devastated young woman, Charis (Zia Zantis-Vinycomb) to a motel and locking her in a room. From here, Danny abandons her to attempt to reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter. For good reasons, the former doesn’t want a bar of him, and her reservations are proven legitimate when things take a turn for the worst.

For the vast majority of the film, the camera sticks to Danny like a small child, allowing the audience a stomach-churning view of the proceedings. There is a remarkable level of authenticity on display: every actor nails the realism and depth necessary to breathe life into the single take, and the camera is there at every step to unflinchingly capture their performances. Better still, it manages to pull off the impressionistic angle just as well, with several clever uses of reflection elevating Damien E. Lipp’s cinematography.

Sadly, the film goes off the rails near the end. A brief monologue on “what separates us from the animals” comes off as egregiously empty philosophising, and the film never recovers enough to deliver the rousing finale you want. If this were a normal film, the editing bay might have caught that and cut the scene down, but the single-take genre allows no such leeway.

Watch the Sunset is a powerful film: its performances are devastatingly real, and its achievements are awe-inspiring. Every member of the crew deserves commendation; they have pulled off one of cinema’s most daring feats with aplomb, producing a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat almost until the very end.

Watch the Sunset is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July) 

Image courtesy of BarrLipp Productions and Revelation Film Festival 

Movie Review – Hotel Coolgardie

Between Perth and Kalgoorlie lurks a remote location that appears devoid of humanity; the outskirts of civilisation in Western Australia may be more formidable than we think.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Every three months, the Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie – a stopover country town frequented by miners and industrial workers to and from Kalgoorlie – hires new barmaids (or “fresh meat”) to serve the patrons of its bar. Two Finnish backpackers in their mid-twenties, Lina and Stephie, are the Hotel’s latest additions. Having been robbed on a vacation in Bali, they need jobs fast, and are sent by a Perth recruitment agency to this town far from civilisation. Little do they know that the next few months will become hell for these girls, as they find themselves the subject of farcical levels of abuse, objectification and harassment from their employers, the locals and the pub’s many visitors.

Every now and then, a documentary comes along that makes you truly wonder whether or not everyone involved was actually in on it and if it was all staged. Surely anyone would want to make themselves look better if they knew their words and actions were being caught on camera, right? Raw & Cooked Media’s Hotel Coolgardie is one of those rare films that manages to perfectly create a fly-on-the-wall feeling, almost as if there is no film crew present and we’re simply watching reality unfold before our eyes. In a volatile situation like this in particular, it must have taken a great deal of restraint for director Pete Gleeson and his team to not interfere and get involved with the (often traumatic) conflict going on at this hotel.

‘Responsible drinking’ seems to be a naff concept in this place; from their very first night on the job, Lina and Stephie are barked orders from their boss Pete as he drowns himself in alcohol alongside the rest of the bar’s patrons. The girls, given essentially no training, struggle to keep up with the constant orders, counting cash and pouring drinks while they are sworn at, insulted and humiliated by the drunken crowd surrounding them.

It only gets worse from here. They’re frequently advanced upon in shockingly crass ways by countless men, given misguided gifts from older blokes whose fancy they’ve taken, urged into arguments by drunks who are a little too open about their life problems, and even find themselves forcing people out of their rooms who have wandered in without invitation. They’re made to endure a camping trip that results in serious health ramifications and professional embarrassment. The girls remain good natured and deal with their situation well, despite how increasingly uncomfortable things become throughout their stay.

It’d be too streamlined to take this all as a deconstruction of “fragile masculinity”, especially considering that some of the residents that belittle and criticise the girls for their looks, physique and demeanour are women. This is more of a look at the way of life in these desolate places far from what we would perceive as a normal, sophisticated way of life. These people live their lonely lives on the road, only ever interacting with a small circle of other human beings and doing what they need to just to get by. Despite how unpleasant they can be, it’s difficult to not feel a little sorry for some of them, clearly so desperate for human interaction they’ll go about it the only way they know how (despite how awful that may seem to us).

Most amazing is how natural everyone seems to be, seemingly uncaring (or unaware) of what image they’ve made of themselves to appear on screen. It’s an incredible feat Raw & Cooked have accomplished in giving us an organic and exposed observation of everyday life just a few hundred kilometres away; it’s an incredible, if somewhat sinister, experience.

Hotel Coolgardie is available in Australian cinemas from June 15

Image courtesy of Raw & Cooked Media

Movie Review – Hounds of Love

If you can stomach it, the trip to hell that is Hounds of Love is another chilling entry in the Australian suburban nightmare, and an impressive calling card for local filmmaker Ben Young.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

In 1980’s Perth, suburbanites go about their lives blissfully unaware that teenage girls are being abducted, sexually abused and murdered by a deeply disturbed married couple, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry). 17-year-old Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is not coping well with her parents’ divorce, and one night sneaks out to head to a party. On the way she encounters the Whites, and in an innocent lapse in judgement is lured back to their, only to find herself chained to a bed and the next victim of the psychotic couple’s sick tradition.

Australian cinema tends to gravitate towards certain genres in which it finds expertise and innovation – primarily horror and familial melodrama. With local talent Ben Young’s thrilling directorial debut Hounds of Love, we’re about to become famed for another one – thrillers centred around kidnapping and hostage-holding. Being released so close to the similarly-themed Berlin Syndrome naturally draws immediate comparisons, but never to its detriment; Young’s film is unique enough and equally excellent in its own right.

Set quite literally in our own backyard, it’s chilling to think that a killer couple like this could be lurking right next door, and given their typical bogan demeanour, it’s highly believable too. Young ups the unpleasant levels to an uneasy extreme, and yet the film rarely feels gratuitous; much of the violence happens just out of frame, and we’re only given hints of the horrific sexual abuse, leaving it largely up to our imagination to conjure up the disturbing images. It’s effectively uncomfortable.

Unlike Teresa Palmer, who was given a more complex love-hate relationship with her tormentor in Berlin Syndrome, Ashleigh Cummings’ Vicki is a more straightforward captive, simply (and naturally) terrified to be held against her will. Fortunately, she’s an excellent scream queen, and is granted depth through her rocky relationship with her divorced parents, particularly her mother (a small but memorable part for Susie Porter).

A seedily-moustached Stephen Curry is detestably monstrous as John; his typically comedic acting sensibility turned on its ear in an intimidating turn as the chief perpetrator. Calm on the surface but capable of truly heinous things, he brings to mind Snowtown’s John Bunting. He’s the scene-stealer, but it’s Emma Booth in the most rewarding role as his madly-in-love but psychologically tormented and conflicted wife Evelyn. She’s massively layered, so crazy for John’s affection and desperate for children that she obeys his every twisted command, but simultaneously can’t escape her sympathy for Vicki, jealousy and contempt of John’s attraction to the younger girl. Booth is terrific at balancing all of this, and her arc is satisfying to watch unfold.

Granted, it can’t help but feel like it’s travelling along the lines of most movies about captors and captives at times, but Hounds of Love is among the genre’s most macabre. It’s frequently tense and unrelenting right up to (and especially in) its squirm-worthy finale. Ben Young knows how to make audiences dig their fingers into their armrests; Hollywood will no doubt know it soon too.

Hounds of Love is available in Australian cinemas from June 1st 

Image courtesy of Label Distribution