There has been a steadily growing stream of low-budget Australian sci-fi over recent years, helping to complement our strong horror output. With streaming finally making some decent headway, that looks set to continue. That is the path that Infini (2015) has taken, with a streaming focused release, coupled with a few select cinema screenings, helping to get the film out there.
Infini takes a relatively old fashioned approach to the genre. Back story is conveyed via text onscreen, which actually functions quite well. Much better than if they had tried to flesh out the timeline more, which would have just stretched the budget too thin you suspect. The text states that in the 23rd century poverty is overwhelming, with the poor forced out of necessity to take low paying jobs and exceptionally dangerous jobs. Many are subjected to slipstreaming, which is a highly dangerous form of transport, that more or less looks like teleporting. This is all simple, but well constructed worldbuilding that allows the film to jump more or less straight into the action of the plot, after a brief moment lingering on the main character’s family life. The story that follows is a nice mishmash of common sci-fi elements, themes and sub-genres. There’s an isolated planet in deepest darkest (coldest) space, a rescue team and a crazy person. It’s very survival horror, with more than a dash of influence from zombie films too. The script does get a little scrappy in the final act when it tries to ramp up the delirium of the characters and the situation, but that is sort of saved by the unlikely element of sound design. The cacophony of voices in the heads of the characters does a much better job of conveying the descent into chaos that is taking place.
Visually, the filmmakers have done a really good job here. Nothing ever looks cheap and they manage to render a slick looking dystopian vision really well. It’s apparent that they’ve used a fair few ‘household’ style items (corrugated iron seems to feature a fair bit), which they manage to combine into sets that well and truly serve the purpose of the film, which is especially true on the isolated planet. Likewise the CGI is really good in the film, mainly because they don’t use that much, focusing more on practical effects. But when they do throw in a bit of CGI, generally to flesh out an expansive background, there are none of those distinctive cheap looking effects so common in sci-fi. Actually I barely even noticed the CGI at all, which is about the biggest compliment you can pay it. On the acting front, the film is populated with a relatively diverse cast and a bunch of Aussie character actors. Daniel MacPherson, best known for appearing on a fair few soapies out here is in the lead role and does it well. He has enough gravitas, at least in a genre sense, to buy into him as a hero. There is the odd patchy performance, but they thankfully never take you out of the film for too long.
Verdict: If old fashioned sci-fi is your thing, then the creative throwback style of Infini will be to your taste. There are patchy moments, but the loving manner in which traditional genre tropes are combined makes this a nice ride. If you’re still on the fence, it also contains the phrase “primordial ooze”, so 10,000 bonus points for that. Stubby of Reschs
The Aussie Spierig Brothers have garnered a fair bit of acclaim for their first two genre flicks, Undead (2003) and Daybreakers (2009). Their latest effort Predestination (2014) will soon open the Melbourne International Film Festival with a wider release to follow. I haven’t seen their first two films, but I am definitely keen to check this one out in cinemas. I really like the imagery in the trailer, from the period flourishes to that initial image of Ethan Hawke exploding into glass. That’s an intriguing image and I can’t wait to see how that factors into the film as whole. I also really hope that this film breaks big, because the female lead Sarah Snook is a hell of a talent and deserves to be seen a whole lot more. Anyone happened to see the Spierig Brothers’ first couple of films?
“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. That’s the price you pay for taking it.” – Eric in The Rover
David Michod’s Animal Kingdom (2010) was one of the best received and widely seen Australian films of recent years. It is no surprise then that his follow up film The Rover (2014) has a fair bit of hype surrounding it, both here and abroad. Hype that is no doubt helped by the intriguing premise of the film and the fact that it features Robert Pattinson, he of the Twilight films I have never seen, in a lead role.
The Rover is set in “Australia – Ten years after the collapse.” The nature of the collapse is never really elaborated on and I have seen arguments online about if this is technically a post apocalyptic film. I don’t think it matters, as I think that the film gives you everything you need to know about this place and is all the stronger for not dwelling on the details. Guy Pearce plays the quiet and imposing Eric whose car is stolen early in the film. Along the way he runs into Robert Pattinson’s Rey, a young man might be able to lead him to the people who stole his car. Much of The Rover is studious in its approach and there is a stillness that permeates so much of the film. Similar in a way (though vastly different in heaps of other ways) to Drive, the stillness is punctuated by furious bursts of violence that say a lot about what this place has become. Even more than in his first feature, Michod brings a singular artistic vision to this film through the dusty and sparse locales, that look apocalyptic without even really trying. The violence also helps to flesh out the atmosphere of the film, with its loud and almost random nature showing that this is a violent, lawless and more importantly amoral place.
There are more than two characters in the film, but much of it rests on the shoulders of Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce. Pattinson has a gaunt physicality that suits the downtrodden nature of the environment perfectly. I have issues with the writing of his character as he feels a little underdrawn and oblique at times. Having said that though, that is one of the few issues I had with the script which is otherwise really well written with some bloody high points. His performance is excellent though and coming nearish enough to a totally different turn in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (2012) shows he has quite the range. The real star of the film is definitely Guy Pearce. Again, part of it is his physicality. Grimy with a long beard, his character feels twice the size and twice as mean than Pearce no doubt is in real life. He is a man that has been battered into a hardened core by what he has seen and a exudes a resignation that he will see just as bad, if not worse in the future. The character of Eric is a seriously conflicting one to watch. He is the ‘hero’ of the piece I guess. However for so much of the film you don’t know if he is motivated by survival, merely a ‘couldn’t give a fuck’ attitude or something deeper. Not being aware of his motivations makes it all the more difficult to reconcile some of his heinous actions throughout the film.
I like it when films from my country are not afraid to be overtly Australian, and by combining universal themes with quite specific ones that will perhaps not be totally clear to an overseas audience, Michod achieves that with The Rover. The violence that I mentioned earlier explores the lengths that people will go to and the ease with which they can turn to that as a solution. The film itself is hyper-masculine, both literally and thematically. There are only a couple of females in this vision of near future Australia, but again Michod challenges his viewer here by leaving the why of this unexplained. This fact lends a hyper-masculinity to the violence on display as the men on occasions pump up their muscles through their guns. The great quote above is a line from the film which exemplifies the theme of I guess ‘costs’ that runs through the film. Sins and karma if you will, though not in a spiritual way at all. But in the way that quite literally every action you take, no matter how little or great the thought that underpins it, will have very real ramifications and if you don’t get the chance to ponder them beforehand, you should do so afterwards. And then you should seek your redemption in some way, either by actively seeking it out, or by awaiting it. There is also a very literal and I think universal aspect to the ending that I will not go into detail about here.
On the more specific to Australia side of the thematic equation are some allegories for the Indigenous experience in Australia, particularly personified by one very minor character. There is also some pointed criticism of the essentially unchecked usage of this nation’s land for mining interests that threatens not just the environment in a ‘green’ sense but the agricultural foundations of rural Australia as well. The ending is such an interesting one. Obviously I am not going to give it away, but I would love to get people’s thoughts on it once they have seen the film. It was totally unexpected, not because it is a showy twist. Rather because it is so grounded and matter of fact. It genuinely hit me hard though which was a total shock to me and is a credit to how the ending makes you consider everything that has come before it in a totally new light.
It is a rare that I give this rating to a film that I have some qualms about. But the rating is more a recommendation for you to go and see it rather than claiming it is perfect. It isn’t. It’s not all that far off though and the rough edges come from Michod and co attempting to push the boundaries a little in terms of the tale a contemporary commercial film will tell. The result was a film that left me feeling energised and enthralled like perhaps no other I have seen this year.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
David Michod’s The Rover (2014) is a film that a lot of people are interested in. Opening over the next few weeks and currently being featured heavily at the Sydney International Film Festival, it is one of the top couple of most anticipated film releases out of this country for 2014. A major reason why people both here and abroad are keen to check the film out is that it is Michod’s first film since Animal Kingdom (2010), the Aussie gangster flick that was seen all around the world and re-launched the career of Jacki Weaver, which so far has gained her a couple of Oscar noms.
I was not totally enamoured with the rather distant first teaser for the film, but I am still very excited to check it out when it opens. I have avoided the second trailer, to try and minimise my knowledge of the film before I see it. However, I am a big fan of these couple of character posters that have been released. I really like the idea of having the same words applying to the close-up shot of both these pretty big name actors. Gives you a flavour of the plot without spoiling anything at all.
First up is Aussie favourite Guy Pearce, who returns to work with Michod after also being seen in Animal Kingdom.
Whatever you think of him, it is great for Michod and Australian film in general that someone with the profile of Robert Pattinson features in one of our features. This look is a long way from Twilight (2008).
Are you fans of these posters? Keen to check out Michod’s new film?
Australian horror film The Babadook (2014) has been gaining a fair bit of attention lately. From winning acclaim at international film festivals to securing a reasonable theatrical release in its home country, which is becoming increasingly rare, this is a film that has people talking. After a slow start, I think it is fair to say that writer director Jennifer Kent’s first feature film deserves absolutely everything that is said about it (assuming they are good that is).
The film centres on a single mother Amelia, played by Essie Davis, and her son Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman. Samuel’s father died in a car accident as Amelia was being driven to the hospital to give birth to him. Things are already going pretty rubbish for the family when the boy finds a book titled “The Babadook” on the shelf to read before bed. The book is amazing by the way and if they bought it out, I would snap up a copy for a prized piece of merch. Already scared of monsters, the starkly terrifying book reduces Samuel to a bawling, inconsolable mess. From there the horror part of the story really kicks in with the usual bumps in the night and aspects of the book playing out in real life. The film is really astutely made and because the tone and pacing are both so spot on, it makes it all the more terrifying. And believe me it is terrifying. It’s a very different horror film too, with its stylish shooting style, being not at all visceral and clearly influenced by though not derivative of classic haunted house films. Thematically, this is a very dark and adult horror film. It is not just about the supernatural threat to the physical body, but it also deals with grief in a very intelligent and interesting way. It is also one of the better examinations of the relationship between a mother and her child in a horror film that has been seen for quite a while.
There is so much texture in this film. The house where a lot of the action plays out has a lot of wood and a very gothic feel to it, the soundtrack and sound design both add so much without distracting at all, whilst the heavily focused on close-ups shooting style also brings a really different vibe to the film. Essie Davis is well known to Aussie audiences for her role as Phryne Fisher in the TV series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. She is excellent as the 1920s sleuth in that series, but she is even better in this film. As a mother close to the edge, she totally embodies the role with her physical appearance and mannerisms. The film opens on a long close-up of her face, just being mad good at acting, and from then on you know you are in for a wonderful performance. She excels at both the grounded elements of the script, as a mother who just cannot take any more and is becoming increasingly exasperated with her son’s nightmares, and also at the scream laden supernatural aspects of it. The fact that Davis’ performance is so excellent is important because the arc of her character, her disintegration, is a very good narrative through line for the film. I was expecting Essie Davis to be as wonderful as she is, but a total surprise to me was the performance from young Noah Wiseman as Samuel. It is one of the more shocking performances from a young actor I have seen in quite a while. Part of that is because he is totally invested in the role and genuinely acting, not just playing along as himself. There are a couple of sequences where the character is putting on magic shows. And so excellent is Wiseman’s performance that he is able to act as the bad actor that the character would be… if that makes any sense. In any case, he is really good at everything, from making you believe he is an annoying brat, to a genuinely troubled kid, to mortally terrified.
I saw this film on my birthday, two beers in hand down at my local cinema. Aside from the fact it scared the shit out of me, it was a perfect present. A highly original and artistically made horror film from my home country that knocked my socks off. Here is hoping that the film is a big success and it leads to Kent being able to bring some more frightening tales to the screen. If you get the chance over the next couple of months to see it, jump at the chance.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) is my fiancee’s favourite film in the entire world. So even if I didn’t like it, I would lie and say I did. But I did like it. And that is not a lie.
It is easy to see why the film has become one of the most popular ‘contemporary’ Australian films, hovering somewhere between being a cult classic and an all out mainstream one. The film follows three drag queens as they traverse Australia from Sydney to Alice Springs to put on some shows. Or so they think. As with any road film, as the journey unfolds, the reasons for it become more complicated. And as with all of the best road films the journey is not merely a physical one as all three go on major internal journeys as they travel along in their titular bus Priscilla. The film is simultaneously wonderfully rambunctious but also quite considered in both the narrative and how it is telling it. One of the major selling points of the film is the costumes and it deservedly won an Oscar for costume design. The costumes are totally over the top but also so well thought out and at the service of the character. It is not a case of just slapping the silliest, biggest, wildest drag queen costume on the actors. It is about reflecting the character, where their arc is up to and the current situation of the film. I heard the other day that they tried, but unfortunately failed to make a dress made entirely of Vegemite toast (do you guys even know what Vegemite is?). That would have been a real sight to see!
The performances are all excellent. Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce really launched there careers with this film, careers that would take them from an Aussie drag queen comedy all the way to blockbusters such as The Matrix (1999) and Iron Man 3 (2013). Without this film it is highly doubtful that they would have made it there. Both of them are excellent and they bring to life two totally different characters that thankfully illustrate that the film is more than happy to eschew drag queen cliche for three dimensional characters. Cast against type, Terence Stamp is along for the ride, helping no end to launch the careers of these two and make this film into the classic it is is. His character is probably the most minor of the three leads in terms of screen time but it is arguable that this character and this performance are the most important to the overall success of the film. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a musical but it is far more than a collection of songs linked together with a little backstory. It engages with issues such as LGBTI rights and sets them against a specific time and place in Australia. Mind you there is a feeling watching this today that a lot of it is still more than relevant.
As a massive proponent of Aussie film, I highly recommend you catch this one if you never have. It is a hilarious and touching classic not afraid to push boundaries and you can’t ask for too much more in a film.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
2014 Progress: 8/101