Monday 6 September 2010

The Director's Cut (2009)

Director: Paul Komadina
Stars: Jonathan Wood, Mollie King, David Maguire, Renato Fabretti and Melanie Munt

I love Aussie movies, probably because there's such an honesty to the actors and filmmakers that's hard to find anywhere else. There's plenty of that here, as an ensemble of characters are thrust together to make a movie. That isn't this movie, by the way, because this is a movie about a movie, which is being made by an arrogant director called Mike and a female producer called Bobby in the Australian outback. In what really boils down to being a slasher movie, this provides a much more interesting set of victims than your standard bunch of American teens at a holiday camp. There are a host of people involved, starting with Mike, who calls his movie 'an enigmatic mystery à la Picnic at Hanging Rock.' With guns. He decides he wants guns, even though his film is set in 1942, so you can imagine how on the ball he is. 'You're the cow and I'm the shepherd,' he tells an actress called Matilda during her audition, because he isn't too good at analogies.

He hires Ema instead, because she's tall and blonde and she can scream. She's an egotistical sort, who changed her name from Emma because she found out it was the most common name in Australia. Common is the last thing she wants to be, but she'll do what it takes to succeed. She doesn't want anything to do with Louis, her co-star, until he explains how he can persuade Mike to give her more lines. Fortune, the Scots production assistant, wants Louis, but she's the misfit of the bunch who's allergic to yellow so nobody really cares. Zeal the cook is a vegetarian so he intends to make vegetarian food for everyone until he realises that nobody else is. He gradually gets converted by Dean the gun nut with a hidden record, who won't let his guns go without him. Hamish is a documentarian with a lack of sensitivity. There's also Jed the cameraman, Ricky the sound guy and Mike #2, the assistant director, among others. The interaction is well crafted.

It's amazing that nobody mentions a curse because things start going wrong before they even set out for their location shoot. One cast member is left behind in the city because his fingers are severed by a car boot after they load it. A second becomes stuck at a market on the way to the shoot because he was in the bathroom and everyone completely forgets he's even part of the crew. Paul the writer leaves because he doesn't like what's happening to his script and wants to avoid watching it be mangled. Mike #2, the assistant director, dies in his sleep on the first day of shooting, prompting a typical selfish reaction of, 'You are not going to ruin this for me!' from Mike. He decides to leave him there for the two week shoot because he doesn't want a death to spoil his debut feature and hey, nobody will notice a decomposing corpse in a farmhouse in the outback heat, right? Well, soon it isn't the only one because they start dropping like flies.
The Director's Cut starts slowly as we gradually learn who all the characters are, but it escalates superbly into a real peach of a slasher movie, one that refuses to identify who the killer in the koala suit is. There are three candidates but unless I blinked and missed a clue, I couldn't work out which one it is, if indeed it's just one. If it is, the laws of physics are broken on occasion as the villain travels a little too quickly. Maybe it's more than one. Who knows? Writer/director Paul Komadina presumably does, but if so, he ain't tellin'. As his fictional counterpart Mike says at one point during the film, 'I like it. I'm the director. I'm the director and I like it. I don't see the problem.' Well, neither do I as it's a refreshing change. You bastard. The film was nominated for six West Australian Screen Awards and won three, the picture having been filmed in Perth and in the town of Bodallin, population 14. I'm surprised the screenplay wasn't one.

The death scenes add up quite nicely and, while only a couple are real surprises, none of them descend to the level of your average Hollywood slasher. This is well written stuff, that does a fair job of spreading the screen time around an ensemble cast without losing consistency or focus. It also enjoys to no small degree the surreal concept of a killer wearing a giant koala bear costume climbing onto the roof of an outdoor shower to pour hydrochloric acid onto the poor leading lady, already suffering from a malicious attempt to get back at her through a tomato allergy. Bizarrely, it was this early death that proved the most surprising as it really caught me offguard. In fact, it may well have been this actual death that made me really think about the story, which had felt interesting but somewhat loose up to then. After that, it's as tight as a gnat's chuff as it builds characters and sets up new victims. There are ironies that stick out on a second viewing too.
If Komadina sets the target high with his debut script, the cast prove capable of reaching it. Most are graduates of WAAPA (the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts), though they hail from all across Australia and, for at least one English actor, further afield. Best known is Jonathan Wood, who plays Mike, as he's a semi-regular on Aussie soap Neighbours, but his role here goes way beyond anything he'd been called to do there. Nobody really stands out from the crowd, but that's more of a compliment to the ensemble cast than a criticism of any particular actor. Martin Williams and Shaun Martindale stand out the most as Dean and Zeal respectively, though that's again more a reflection on the roles they were given than a specific shoutout. Martindale has the most dynamic part as he gets to change the most as a character, but Renato Fabretti isn't too far behind him as Louis, the lead actor. All these actors are well worth watching.

I wish I'd been in Bodallin for the shooting of this film, as much as the omnipresent flies suggest an oppressive heat, something that must have been particularly oppressive for whoever got to take their turn in the giant koala suit. This is a small indie picture, Komadina's debut though the film's official site thankfully suggests there are more on the way, but as we discover through the film within a film, even a small indie picture has a whole bunch of folks involved to flesh out the cast and crew. I can only imagine what sort of wake up call the shooting of a slasher movie in a town of 14 people in the Aussie outback must have been, but it gives the impression of being a real experience and I really wonder what the locals thought of it. I hope they got invited to the première along with the cast and crew. Without a doubt the best film I've ever seen with a giant koala bear as a villain, I can only hope that I live long enough to see another one.

1 comment:

Vicki Mihn said...

Great review!

I saw this at a film festival a couple of years ago, really still stands out to me.

I love the line 'Pain is temporary. Film is forever!'