Place in Australian Genre Film
The sprawling, sun-battered landscape is an icon of the Australian genre film. Scan some of the most popular fare: there’s a reckoning with the (waste)land in George Miller’s MAD MAX franchise and David Michôd’s THE ROVER (2014), where the supposedly barren ‘outback’ has been rendered post-apocalyptic.
The ever-nebulous Ozsploitation locates fear in mysterious travellers, evident in films like WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971), ROAD GAMES (1981) and WOLF CREEK (2005), or the oversized animals of RAZORBACK (1984) and ROGUE (2007), all of whom use the landscape as their hunting ground. Country is vital in Ivan Sen’s crime-centric MYSTERY ROAD (2013) and its sequel, GOLDSTONE (2016), which concerns an Indigenous police officer grappling with his identity.
This is all to say that it's interesting to note the lack of such distinct cultural grounding in two genre features in competition for the 2019 AACTA Awards: David Barker’s PIMPED and Kiah Roache-Turner’s NEKROTRONIC. At first glance, finding a connection between the two very disparate films may seem arduous: the former, a glossy, streamlined, quietly devastating character study of a woman tricked and raped by a pair of insolent rich boys; the latter, a migraine-inducing genre-hybrid featuring Monica Bellucci as an insane demon matriarch. But beyond their exterior signifiers, the two films reveal themselves tangled in a common thread: they are placeless. Neither express a deep-rooted grounding in place. Both films are populated with Australian actors, directed by Australian directors, produced by Australian production companies, but there are no master shots of scorched earth nor gritty suburban locales in sight – nothing that recalls the trappings of Australian genre films previous.
This is less obvious in PIMPED, which hops from spacious home to bar to spacious home in a single night, only ever glimpsing the outside world through a second-floor window that reveals little more than an anonymous skyscraper-laden skyline, just out of reach. Here, we follow Ella Scott Lynch in a dual role as both the very-real Sarah Montrose and the very-imaginary, Rachael Montrose, as her two halves navigate a night gone violently awry. Greeted at the bar by slick-talking Lewis Blake (Benedict Samuel), Sarah finds herself not only wooed back to Lewis’ mansion, co-habited by fellow over-privileged deadbeat, Kenneth (Robin Goldsworthy) but hostage to a sick game masterminded by the two men.
PIMPED’s placelessness allows the film to unfold in a kind of purgatory. The opening scene, a winding long take through a party hosted by Lewis and Kenneth, reveals that their ‘game’ has been played before, a seemingly tried-and-true method of manipulation. This opening is about as expressive as the film’s colour palette gets, a contrast of deep blues and scorched yellows; elsewhere, the camera glides though empty corridors and peers cautiously around corners, relishing in the grey-blue facelessness of the Blake-Hanson residence, a non-place.
At the complete other end of the spectrum is NEKROTRONIC, the demonically-possessed brainchild of Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner – the duo behind 2014’s regional Aus zombie exercise, WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD. Like PIMPED, however, NEKROTRONIC unfolds in a range of equally-anonymous locales: the film’s opening titles vaguely place the film “close to Christmas, somewhere hot”. The narrative follows Howard (Ben O’Toole), a tradie-turned-unlikely-necromancer, working together with a secret sect to stop the evil plans of his demon-loving mother, Finnegan (Monica Bellucci). Where David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN envisioned a “Monica Bellucci dream”, NEKROTRONIC offers instead a Monica Bellucci nightmare. Here, she’s set on something resembling world domination through the distribution of demons via a Pokémon Go-esque augmented reality app.
NEKROTRONIC is a feature-length version of Roache-Turner’s 2017 short film, DAEMONRUNNER, which sheepishly flagged itself as “GHOSTBUSTERS meets THE MATRIX”. But as much as it aspires towards the giants of the sci-fi genre – Michael Lira’s score does lend a certain grandeur – it has more in common with the DTV-MTV aesthetic of filmmaking duo Neveldine/Taylor. NEKROTRONIC apes their bombast, ADD-inflected visual sensibility, worshipping at the altar of their goofball genre disposition. All sense of internal continuity is lost in favour of formal chaos and a commitment to cream-filling the corpse of every genre reference it pulls together. And, like Neveldine/Taylor’s films – GAMER and CRANK chief among them – NEKROTRONIC is pervaded with impersonal locations; non-spaces. An exterior world beyond the film’s gritty interiors – warehouses cluttered with anti-demon tech; nondescript corridors full of zombified humans – is rarely exposed. Faceless cities and corporate interiors run rampant. Reality becomes weightless, dislodged. Even then, this is film with its brakes cut: there’s hardly a moment to stop and look around.
Is this rejection of place the result of a certain kind of cultural cringe? A branching out beyond traditional iconography? Though swept up in the fantastical whirlwind of these genre films, we’re certainly not in Kansas anymore; but wherever we are, it hardly resembles Australia either.
Samuel Harris is an editor of Rough Cut and a media Honours student at RMIT.
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.