Samantha E. Hill, Perri Cummings
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…a slick looking piece of independent cinema that mines laughs out of its premise…
A change is as good as a rest for many, allowing us to step away from crushing stagnation of our supposedly dull lives. In Trench, the Melbourne mystery from Director Paul Anthony Nelson, the change is a whole new career and the stagnation comes in the form of the comedy circuit and toxic masculinity.
Marking Nelson’s feature debut, after several shorts for the independent company Cinema Viscera, Trench takes a blanket of film noir tropes and casts it over a modern Aussie cityscape. Trudging through this landscape is stand-up comedian Sam Slade (Samantha E. Hill) and writer Becky Holt (Perri Cummings, who also helped write Trench), two women trapped within their own lives. For Sam, this means shedding the shackles of her microphone and reinventing herself as a private detective, and Becky is going to be her first case.
Filmed in sumptuous black and white, Trench uses this initially simple premise to subvert the detective genre. Gone are the dames who teach you how to whistle, and being handy with your fists is no longer a suitable substitute for conversation skills. Investigating strange things happening in Becky’s flat, the progressive Sam crosses paths with the kind of arched brow, public face misogynists that have taken an unfortunate front seat in the current political climate. Ostensibly set up as interrogations for Sam to gather clues, Trench explores why these archetypes – from ‘ironic’ funny men to sleazy raconteurs in ‘negging’ – they do what they do, and in doing so, manages to flesh them into real people. It is, to be fair, only a light grilling, played mostly for laughs, but it is an interesting way to wrestle with this particular mindset.
For all its modernism, Trench is equally comfortable falling back on some good old fashioned storytelling; with the film’s denouement seeing the unmasked villain donning black gloves and detailing their masterplan like they’re in a Bond film. To some this might be a little played out, but it highlights Nelson’s desire to emulate cinema from the likes of Howard Hawks.
Whilst Cummings and Hill play well off each other, Sam’s picking apart of Becky’s life means we never really get to know much about our hero outside of being exceedingly broke. There are some lovely flourishes that show a Sherlock Holmes just simmering under her surface – using her deductive powers to blag free lattes – and it would have been interesting to see Sam apply more of the skills of her former trade to her new career.
When all is said and done though, Trench is a slick looking piece of independent cinema that mines laughs out of its premise, whilst biting its thumb at the kind of people who were never going to take a female detective seriously in the first place.