Existential philosopher Albert Camus once said of plagues: “I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people, and they need curing.”
Ben Geuerns’ Ryan Black returns home an outsider. Arriving back to a decaying fictional mining town, he’s passing through the detritus of a boom gone bust. What’s brought him back? Death. And in this town, death abounds. Drought, rotting animals carcasses litter the roadside. Ryan’s alcoholic father, the wedge that drove him away has died. Standing beside his grave, he barely acknowledges the newly turned dirt and the new marker. Instead Ryan pines to the grave of his mother as the empty words of the town’s preacher dance around him like the red dust licking at his inky black suit. If you need to know about Ryan’s relationship with his father, writer Angus Watts and director Heath Davis convey everything in a single motion. Ben discards a cigarette like a sparked exclamation.
Locusts set its scene in the rotting carcass of an unnamed Australian industrial town. The industry used to mean harvesting minerals - now it means medicating displacement and despair. Ben is settling his father’s affairs and attempting to reconnect with his estranged brother Tyson (Nathaniel Dean). The brothers become ensnared by what I’d dub as “the four bogans of the apocalypse” (Steve Le Marquand, Damian Hill- RIP, Mark Duncan and Ryan Morgan). They demand that Ryan settle the debts of their departed Dad that endure beyond the grave. Collections beyond the grave are grim.
Davis and Watts’ LOCUSTS, is both a crime thriller and an impending apocalypse thriller, which is fitting because Australian filmmakers essentially invented the Post-Apocalyptic genre. It’s also a film that’s willing to provide constant commentary on industrial abandonment, sanction syphoning to failure. Watts’ script is firmly a ‘genre movie’, a crime thriller with such a command of its genre structure that it perfectly integrates the apocalyptic seasoning. It’s a metaphorical town, in a very authentic, tragic predicament. This town is used, soiled and abandoned by industry. This outcropping civilisation on the edge of the grueling outback is a giant disposable space. When it is sapped and drained of valuable minerals the town, its people are simply the scraps. In the vast absences of political powers, of the corporations that once proudly swelled in size and capital at the expense of this town’s plentiful resources, leaves a definite void in its abandonment. In Dr George Miller’s canonical MAD MAX, the world still felt like our world. If you add another layer of recognition, you arrive at David Michôd’s THE ROVER. Add yet another layer of society you’re standing at LOCUSTS. There’s an immediacy to the proximity to impending collapse that makes LOCUSTS so terrific. Watts and Davis never mention working-class fears of our international superpower customers taking their business elsewhere or the precious minerals that those superpowers require drying up. They never overtly explain the political nearsightedness that places pockets of our society on that precarious obsolete system.
Watts uses the archetypes from the apocalypse and the old West(erns) and drags them kicking and screaming back to this half-life town. Cops look the other way. Women must resort to selling their bodies. Drugs are the addictive escape that hooks you in for the vultures to pick away at the rot that remains whether you’re alive or dead.
Davis’ film grammar has never been better than in Locusts. The ochre dirt contours the abounding rust. Ryan’s brother Tyson (Dean) has a blazing tangle of red hair on his face and head which makes him seem like he’s fading into this hell hole. There’s dark energy, constructed in the unity of composition, editing and score. Ryan’s investigation into his father’s passing and the town’s crime infestation are very tense. When Ryan walks through his father’s grubby squat of a home, there’s a sense that at any moment, turning the lights on is going to make some unwanted, cretinous thing scurry out.
LOCUSTS is director Heath Davis and writer Angus Watts’ exhilarating crime thriller. And it’s also about orphans in many ways. Orphaned by whom is an important question. It twists and turns and dances around a critical issue; who are the locusts? Has the plague come and gone? One thing’s for sure, this town, its people and the system that incentivises its rise and abandons people wholesale - needs a cure.
Blake Howard is a freelance Film Critic & Producer of Movie Podcasts THE TAKE on Flicks.com.au, ONE HEAT MINUTE, JOSIE AND THE PODCATS & INCREMENT VICE.
To learn more about al thirty-four of the feature films in competition for the 2019 AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel, download the Judges Handbook here.