In a cottage, positioned amongst the greenery of an unnamed forest, a young woman, Lucy (Adele Perovic) hides from someone who could do her harm. Whilst that threat remains kilometres away, a new one churns and boils within the confines of her new sanctum, the seclusion of the forest concealing the dangers from within. That’s Lost Gully Road, the second feature from filmmaker Donna McRae. Her last film being the bewitching Johnny Ghost, part ghost story/part love letter to the St Kilda music scene.
“When I came back from the Frontieres co-production market in July 2016, I sat across the table from Michael [Vale] (co-writer and Production Designer) and suggested that we make another film,” Donna explains. “Despite being in the middle of developing another project – a ghost western called Kate Kelly – I felt that I needed to do something a bit more current and not just rely on Johnny Ghost to keep my name out there. Strangely Michael said, ‘Yes, I think it’s a good idea’!”
Stylistically, the film is a distinct departure from Johnny Ghost, a monochromatic affair, with Lost Gully Road overflowing with vibrant colours and deep blacks that offset the horror that runs beneath the surface. (“It really shows off the location, and Michael Vale’s wonderful production design palette looks magnificent in colour.”) And whilst the presentation differs, similarities remain with Lost Gully Road exploring more of Donna’s love of ghost stories; a passion for which she’s had since childhood when she would watch episodes of Casper the Friendly Ghost, and share creepy tales amongst her friends.
“Later I loved to watch them on Friday nights with [late night horror host] Deadly Earnest.” Donna reminisces. “I don’t know how many times I have watched The Woman in Black (both of them), The Innocents, and The Ghost and Mrs Muir, which is a big favourite. Working in this genre is fantastic because it offers the chance to be inventive with the representation of the ghost but also to examine memory and haunting. The recent film A Ghost Story did this perfectly.”
Lost Gully Road is flavoured by an even more horrific and human kind of dread. One that is all too real for a lot of people: violence against women. It wouldn’t do to give away Lost Gully Road’s secrets, but there’s no denying the potency of its themes in light of recent events in the news.
“I wanted to respond to all the terrible stories that were around at the time of writing. Those stories of young women that were walking home at night and getting attacked. Or the young women that were in bars and clubs and were assaulted,” Donna says. “I felt like I wanted to examine the heat around ‘No’, and the complications of saying that to someone. It doesn’t matter what you are doing or how drunk you may get, that is your right, and no one should take advantage of it.”
For Lost Gully Road’s lead character Lucy, there appears to be no reprieve from this kind of harassment, where even a simple trip to the shops yields unwanted attention in the form of John Brumpton (Pawno, The Loved Ones) as a creepy local delivery man.
“It was very confronting to write [the screenplay],” the filmmaker admits. “But it was good to work with Michael as he kept it on track, as I would have been inclined to give it a happy ending, when mostly that is not the case. He kept saying that I can’t have the basket of kittens at the end! Coming from a writer of over 150 episodes of [children’s television show] Shirl’s Neighbourhood, I thought that was pretty funny!”
As well as Adele Perovic, Lost Gully Road features performances from the aforementioned John Brumpton (“He’s the ultimate professional and so talented”) and Prisoner’s Jane Clifton (“She is a legend”). Adele’s role, however, is a particularly demanding one. One which sees the actor being put through the mill both mentally and physically. Particularly in a final act that’s sure to leave an indelible mark on those who see it. Being so relentless, how did Donna and Adele prepare for the scene?
“Everything was ‘in the moment’, [Adele] played it how she felt it,” Donna explains. “The final act was shot mostly in the first week, while there was still some energy in the tank. We didn’t have any rehearsal for the film apart from a stunt co-ordinator that came in for the day for those particular scenes. We had already looked at the stunts with him, but Adele had to learn it on the day just before we shot it. It was very intense, but she managed to do it with elegance and determination.”
As audiences gather in the dark to experience Lost Gully Road’s upcoming world premiere, what does Donna hope people will take away from the film’s mixture of the supernatural and social commentary.
“Hopefully the message will be that no means no – and that young women can have their own agency.” Donna states. “There is also a comment on the enablers of this type of behaviour, but I will leave that to the film. It’s unfortunately very current now, you just need to examine the #metoo hashtag to see just how many women are affected.”