Rewind: Suburban Mayhem

March 31, 2021
Before it played at Cannes, got rave reviews, and won three AFI Awards, FilmInk visited the set of the wonderfully scabrous 2006 cult flick Suburban Mayhem.

Outside a small shopping mall in Newcastle, 19-year-old Emily Barclay (In My Father’s Den) is venting her frustration – putting the mayhem in Suburban Mayhem. “The director is a fucking cunt, the crew are all arseholes and I fucking hate it. This is the last film I’m ever doing. After this, I’m out. I give up. Fuck it.” The film’s producer, Leah Churchill-Brown, moves in for damage control. She ushers Emily towards Craft Services, describing Emily’s character as “the sort of anti-heroine we used to see in ‘30s and ‘40s movies but now, with homogenised cinema, you just don’t see them anymore.”

The director, Paul Goldman (Australian Rules, The Night We Called It A Day), thinks Emily and her character are very similar. He says, “The attractive thing about Emily, and the character she is playing, is that she doesn’t take a backward step. When she does, it’s only so she can take a better swing at you and kick your teeth out.” The film follows Katrina De Roche (Barclay) as she plots to kill her father in order to receive the family inheritance. It’s a sexy black dramedy; a kaleidoscope of flashbacks and testimonies fuelled by small town gossip.

Emily Barclay and Anthony Hayes in Suburban Mayhem.

The cast and crew head into a supermarket to resume filming. The writer, 26-year-old Alice Bell, whispers, “The sound guy is going crazy. He’s got fluoro lights, he’s got fridges, he’s got cash registers going off, he’s got someone calling out a special on aisle two, he’s got phones, and he’s got customers. He’s not very happy…just go in there and look.” She’s right. The sound recordist, Stephen Jackson-Vaughan, can’t stand the mayhem. “We can’t lock anything down, we can’t turn off the fridges because the food would defrost, customers are walking through, and there are three pages of dialogue. It’s a terrible, terrible environment.”

When they start filming, Barclay’s character’s baby starts crying. The “father”, Michael Dorman (The Secret Life Of Us), has had enough. “I’d like to think that I’m really good with kids, but these kids? Man, they put ‘em on your lap and two seconds out of their mother’s arms they start crying and don’t stop. The mother smirks at you and says, ‘Don’t take it personally’, and you’re like ‘What? How am I meant to take it? That’s the third baby this morning.’”

Michael Dorman and Emily Barclay in Suburban Mayhem.

If it all sounds like mayhem, it’s not. The truth of the matter is that Paul Goldman just wondered why FilmInk’s set reports are always so positive. The cast and crew were only too happy to play along, and we took a little dramatic license with the story to this point. Yes, shooting in a supermarket has its complications and, yes, there have been some difficulties with the babies, and Emily Barclay was only joking about Goldman, but this crew has been shooting television commercials together for years. More than professionals, they’re friends. “I’ve got a really good cast and crew and I think everyone is having a lot of fun,” says Goldman, speaking honestly now that the “mayhem charade” is over. “It’s hard work, but it’s enjoyable detailing a character, even if you walk away from each day exhausted.” Barclay is enjoying the freedom of playing a radical character. “She’s intense; a law unto herself; a force of nature. She’s audacious and unapologetic and messed up. I love her. The more I play her the more I think she’s just like me, which is a bit worrying.”

In a way, Churchill-Brown doesn’t want the production to end. “I’m usually pretty stressed, but now we’re in week 3 and I’m relaxed and enjoying it. I’ve seen some of the scenes cut together and I’m excited. What we’re shooting is special. I’ll be sad when it’s over.” Barclay reveals her true feelings about the director: “I believe in this film and I believe in Paul and he believes in me. He respects actors and he’s always honest with me. There’s no bullshit. I appreciate that. It’s a great relationship.” Bell, the writer, couldn’t be happier as she watches her first script being transformed into a picture. “I hate to use the word exciting because I’m using it all the time, but it is, there’s no other word. It’s above exciting. What’s that? Thrilling?”

Suburban Mayhem is available through FilmInk’s new VOD service. Click here for more information.

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