This Australian chiller about a rash of grisly murders makes a play to be the new Snowtown.
Aussies know a thing or two about grim, gritty horror. In the last decade, director Justin Kurzel mined grotesque real-life crime in the excellent Snowtown, which explored the twisted posturings of a neo-Nazi preying on the weak and needy. Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek similarly blended despicable crimes to craft the definitive backpacker murderer who sliced and diced foreigners for kicks. Even David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, while technically a crime thriller, didn’t shy from showing the uglier side of Australian suburban life.
Toe-curling tales, then, are a bona fide training ground for emerging feature filmmakers down under. Ben Young, an accomplished music video and commercials director, takes up the mantle, transferring the horrors of the serial killer to the West Australian suburbs of Perth. It’s 1987, and white trash lovers John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn (Emma Booth) are cruising, evidently looking for a nubile loner to bruise. Not long after they pass a netball court full of teens, in one of several dreamy sequences, a target soon presents herself.
Young, together with cinematographer Michael McDermott, composer Dan Luscombe and editor Merlin Eden, creates a deeply unsettling world in which the couple from hell indulge their sexual fantasies (thankfully, mostly left to the imagination) from behind boarded windows. When the school girls begin to vanish, the local police shrug with an indifference that borders on parody. Even when the second victim, Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), the daughter of the local cashed-up dentist, disappears, nothing is done.
Unlike similarly-primed serial killer thrillers, the gore quotient here is kept to a minimum, mostly left to the imagination – placing a greater responsibility on the leads to deliver. Which they all do effectively. Cummings is particularly good as the imprisoned victim who may yet surprise her captors. Booth is also convincing as the troubled single mom who’s lost her kids to the state. Curry, playing dramatically against type, is the terrifying time bomb, wildly unpredictable and easily the most obscene of the few characters we encounter.
Frustratingly, the tension does dip in a less-than-satisfying third act, as the film looks for ways of maintaining its rhythm and intensity, while trying to pander to convention and its audience. Oddly, it nods back to a vague, undeveloped subplot of Evelyn being denied access to her children, with the finale finally playing out to the sounds of Joy Division (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds would have been a better fit.) Problems such as these can be fixed in the edit. Otherwise, it’s an unnerving, disturbing ride that looks and feels authentic.
Published 2 Sep 2016
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