Australia has a long and proud history of making unforgettable genre films, despite the prevailing funding bodies’ mercurial interest in supporting them. From dark, allegorical thrillers like Wake in Fright (1971) to slowburn classics like Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), to nature-run-amok flicks like Razorback (1984), to more traditional outback slasher gear like Wolf Creek (2005), not to mention modern classics like Jennifer Kent’s iconic TheBabadook (2014). We have, however, dropped the ball somewhat in letting the first people’s voices be heard in genre film, and anthology Dark Place seeks to change that rather glaring omission, by featuring shorts from rising Aboriginal filmmakers.
Like all anthology films, Dark Place is at times less than the sum of its parts, as the quality and level of interest varies from piece to piece. Solid efforts include Liam Phillips’ Foe, about an insomniac who begins to question her own sanity and Rob Braslin’s Vale Light, about witchy shenanigans on a housing estate. Perun Bosner’s arty Shore, shot in black and white, and dripping with atmosphere, feels a tad disconnected from the rest of the films, and while it’s not a dud, it’s certainly the weakest entry.
However, it’s the opening film, Kodie Bedford’s Scout and the closer, Bjorn Stewart’s Killer Native that are the stars of the show. Scout is a harrowing look at indigenous women sold into sex slavery, that mercifully becomes redemptive with borderline grindhouse glee, and Killer Native is a genuinely hilarious black comedy, set in colonial times with an indigenous twist on the zombie genre. Watching both of these shorts will almost certainly have you yearning for them to get the feature length treatment, with Killer Native in particular showcasing a sly, acerbic wit and fantastic comic timing, not to mention spectacular gore and a genuinely surprising ending.
It would be easy to suggest that you see Dark Place because giving a platform to rising indigenous voices is important, which is absolutely true. However, Dark Place can simply be recommended as an extremely solid, horror anthology, with two stand out entries, that’s well worth your time and attention and a grand addition to Australian genre cinema in general.
Justin Kurzel's adaptation of Peter Carey's novel from a script by Snowtown's Shaun Grant, and starring George MacKay, Russell Crowe, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Charlie Hunnam, Thomasin McKenzie and Claudia Karvan, will release in cinemas and head to streaming platform Stan this summer.
Think Australian screenwriters are boring? You’re probably right. But not always. Stephen Vagg, a screenwriter himself and an aficionado of the history of the Australian film industry, put together this top ten of list of ten unusual stories about Australian screenwriters.
Cinema is going through a metamorphosis in terms of how it portrays male vulnerability on-screen. Going (if not gone) are the days of the hardened loner being rewarded with a personal breakthrough, in depictions that suggest grief and inner-turmoil are a self-development tool akin to a Tony Robbins conference. For many men, it is not a trope but a deep-seated issue that requires professional treatment.
Director Genevieve Bailey (I Am Eleven) intimately explores this subject matter in a series of interviews with a variety of men suffering from mental illness in the compassionately told Aussie documentary Happy Sad Man.
Inspired by her friendship with John, a larrikin and self-described ‘first hippie’ on the South East Coast of NSW, Bailey investigates modern masculinity from a grass-roots angle. In particular, she explores a culture of shame felt by men who do not express their emotions; a feat which the filmmakers interrogate with a respectful touch.
Bailey remains empathetic to the hardships of the men being interviewed. The diversity of the subjects – from inner-city progressives to bush folk – provides a relatively comprehensive scope of the issues at large, with the opportunity to explore the experiences of men of colour should a sequel be in the pipeline.
Happy Sad Man glosses over the history behind male toxicity. A smart move keeping the film focused on treatment and not causation. Bailey pushes an agenda of openness and discussion, with the struggles of the interviewees – depression, bipolar, mania, psychosis, suicide – providing an authentic account of the dangers of emotional suppression.
Bailey’s own narration interjects throughout the film, allowing the Director to digest the weight of the subject matter brought on by deeply-personal responses from interviewees. Too easily, this could have detracted, however, Bailey proves an ambitious director that remains laser-focused. Her commitment for betterment imbues Happy Sad Man with an optimistic tone that overpowers any self-serving misinterpretations.
The interviewees are just as dedicated as Bailey in raising awareness of male mental health. ‘It’s okay to not be okay’ and ‘no pain going to the doctor’ some of the many insightful statements spoken throughout Happy Sad Man. It is a film that finds power in giving the compassionate men a platform to offer relatable guidance that doesn’t come across as a PSA. For these men, a large portion of their lives is spent maintaining a balance somewhere between happy and sad, with their treatment (called their ‘recipe’) being put on offer to viewers as a message of solidarity.
Masculinity has taught men to bottle up their emotions so tightly that it proves difficult to re-open. Many films now present progressive attitudes, with recent releases Ad Astra and Good Boys challenging conventions of modern masculinity by highlighting the danger in apathy. Filmmakers should continue to challenge these constructs, with Happy Sad Man delivering genuinely powerful moments that exist as a hand of outreach.
Reckon old Australian movies are boring? Well, to be honest, some of them are... but it didn’t mean the people who made them were dull. Here’s an A to Z of the most colourful figures of the old Australian industry.