Still some of the finest films

9 December 2010
Red Hill

Red Hill

One of the great things about the Australian Film Institute Awards is that during the build up to the awards night people actually start talking about Australian cinema and the industry gets a bit of media attention. The bad thing is that this has increasingly resulted in a stack of inaccurate and unfair criticism being thrown at Australian cinema for it being too miserable and not mainstream enough. Whether in the comments found under articles about the industry or in the actual articles themselves, too many people love to characterise Australian cinema as arty doom and gloom stories set in the inner city. This is apparently the reason Australians don’t go to see Australian films.

This time last year I started writing a piece that was eventually titled “Some of the finest films”, published in issue 1999 of Overland Literary Journal and then posted online here by Overland and here by myself. The thrust of my argument was that the industry is significantly suffering do to the perception that Australia only makes worthy dramas. This prevalent perception is simply not true but that doesn’t stop uninformed commentators dismissing everything this country produces as doom and gloom.

Bran Nue Dae

Bran Nue Dae

There is a place in any healthy national cinema for challenging social-realists films, especially those that give a voice to the marginalised, and Australia makes its share of such films but they don’t typify the current industry. This year alone has seen the release of a diverse collection of films including Bran Nue Dae (musical), Daybreakers (horror/action), Beneath Hill 60 (war), I Love You Too (romantic comedy), Animal Kingdom (crime drama), The Horseman (revenge thriller), The Loved Ones (horror/comedy), Tomorrow, When The War Began (teen action) and Red Hill (action/western).

Not everybody is going to like every film that Australia produces and it’s unrealistic to expect every film to be a hit. Our industry caters to a broad range of audiences, but the intense negativity and lack of support means that frequently those films don’t always reach those intended audiences. This has been recently demonstrated with the poor levels of interest in The Loved Ones and Red Hill, which according to many commentators are supposedly exactly the types of genre films that Australia should be making more of.

The knee-jerk reaction that Australia only produces depressing films is unfounded and unfairly puts people off seeing films that deserve to be seen.

Written for the Oz Film Blogathon hosted by Dark Habits

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – The Loved Ones (2009)

31 October 2010
The Loved Ones: Brent (Xavier Samuel)

Brent (Xavier Samuel)

Still troubled by the recent death of his father, Brent (Xavier Samuel) at least seems to have found some happiness in his relationship with his girlfriend. So naturally he politely turns down the offer from quiet girl Lola (Robin McLeavy) to attend the end-of-year school dance with her instead. Unfortunately for Brent, Lola is seriously unhinged and with the assistance of her equally unhinged father Eric (John Brumpton) kidnaps Brent in order for her to still have her special night. As Brent is increasingly humiliated and abused, fans of the genre will be delighted at the grotesque intensity and disturbing humour of this Australian horror by writer/director Sean Byrne.

The Loved Ones follows in the tradition of films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance and Australia’s previous horror hit Wolf Creek, of exploiting the fear that on the fringes of civilisation live an extreme form of poor-white trash who get their kicks from torturing and murdering whoever comes their way. Added to the mix is the vengeful-hysterical-woman tradition where a slighted women (or in this case one whose derangement makes her falsely believe herself to have been slighted) takes violent action against the offending male. In the case of Lola she also has the added perversity of possessing more than a hint of an Electra complex.

The Loved Ones: Lola (Robin McLeavy)

Lola (Robin McLeavy)

While The Loved Ones does have a degree of similarity to torture porn films such as the Saw franchise and Hostel, it isn’t as depressingly bleak or cruel. That’s not to say that The Loved Ones isn’t exploitive, gut-churning and nasty – it is all those things – but it delivers the shocks and scares in a way that is inventive enough to make the experience of seeing the film a lot of fun rather than an ordeal. There is also some respite from Brent’s suffering when the film switches to a tenuously linked, yet enjoyable, subplot about Brent’s stoner best friend.

There are key moments in The Loved Ones where Byrne really takes the shocks to the next level of intensity and a big part of the effectiveness of such moments is the plausibility of what is happening. You will gasp in horror at the prospect of what is about to happen and then you will giggle in delight that the film actually carries out what it threatens to.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Double pass ticket giveaway closed – congratulations to Ingrid (Fitzroy North VIC), Josh (Coburg VIC), Cam (Clifton Hill VIC), Xanthe (Clearview SA), Den (Noble Park VIC), Adrian (Brunswick West VIC), Ben (Stafford QLD), Frank (Prahran VIC), Glenn (Fitzroy VIC) and Jason (Brunswick VIC)