There I am with nothing to see in current release, when along comes something that sounds right up my alley, with Australian white trash and serial killings and cross-dressers and sexual abuse and evil father figures with shaved heads and beards, which the New York Times describes as having "a stylistic talent that feels entirely new." But alas, now I've seen the movie and all I can say is: "Gee, I guess the NYT's Jeannette Catsoulis hasn't seen too many movies."
We open with a lengthy shot of a passing plain, then have a bunch of shots showing us that we're in a highly economically-depressed area with a lot of lower-class people under gray, ominous skies. This, by the way, is a true story of Australia's most notorious serial-killing case, which unfolded in the 90s. We join this mother and her three boys, one of whom is Jamie, who is like a long-haired, internalized Keanu Reeves. They spend their days playing video games and watching TV and eating shitty food. Mom is dating this guy from across the street, but at a certain point we see him taking pictures of the boys in their underwear, and nude. One day a weird older cross-dresser comes over and informs mom about what's going on (how he knows is not explained). Soon friendly bearded dude John shows up.
John is a cool guy with a motorcycle who is a friend of the cross-dresser and they hold groups of local parents who vent their fury at all the pedos in their midst. John encourages the boys to write "Fag" on the windows of the man across the street, and harass him in other ways. One day Jamie comes out and sees John chopping the heads and paws off of some kangaroos and throwing them in a bucket. Then he brings Jamie across the street to throw the gore onto the porch of the pedophile. The man soon moves away. Soon John is dating mom, and continuing to have their little discussion groups in their house, which John insists Jamie be able to attend over his mother's wishes.
One day some guy, I was never quite sure, but I guess he's a friend of John's, wrestles Jamie to the ground and anally rapes him. Soon after Jamie stays the night at John's, and John suddenly asks him if he likes getting fucked. John says he has to fight back, and gives him a gun and tells him to shoot John's dog. He yells at him until he does. Seconds later, we're seeing another dog exactly like the one that just got shot. Is it the same dog? I guess not, but I don't know. Soon we're cutting to a bed and bathtub covered in blood. Whose house is it? I guess it's John's? One day Jamie goes to that house, whose ever it is, and Mom comes out shouting. I guess she found out something horrible about John.
SPOILERS > > >
Soon John takes Jamie out to the garage, and shows him the corpse of some guy. Jamie is upset, and it seems like we're supposed to know who the victim is, but I couldn't tell. It seems like Jamie knew him. John justifies it by saying "He was a waste, he was a fucking junkie." He also tells Jamie that in killing the guy "I'm looking after you." Soon John and his friends are torturing someone in the bathtub, and Jamie goes outside to get away. Perhaps the best moment of the movie comes as three oblivious kids go by on bikes outside as we know someone is getting tortured and killed inside. But again, it seems like we're supposed to recognize the victim, and I had no idea who he is. And all of these instances where I can't tell what's happening are just distancing me further from what's going on, pushing me to the point where I no longer care what's happening in this movie.
Soon John and his friends take Jamie out to a remote house and have him help them set it up for future murders. Around now we are becoming conscious of the fact that Jamie, or his mother, could pick up the phone at any time and call the police. Jamie starts doing drugs, but John makes him get off them. One day they're torturing a guy in the tub--again it seems like maybe we should know who this guy is--when Jamie can't stand it anymore, comes in and finishes the guy off. Meanwhile the meetings at Jamie's house are turning more and more to talk of murder and vigilantism. And I am just plain getting sick of this movie. And it's going on too long, and now it's official: I don't care.
We have a repeat of the opening shot, which we now know is on the way out to the remote murder house. They kidnap the son of someone in their meeting group--never quite sure what his crime is, except that he got a new job--and we see that Jamie is no longer fighting it, but closes the door, now fully indoctrinated into the killing crew. Then--the end! That's IT, folks! The screen just goes black. We get a few titles that the group was caught (nary a peep on how), learn of their sentences, and that Jamie got a reduced sentence for giving information on the others. Thanks so much for coming!
< < < SPOILERS END
Okay, so I get it, it's all about the corruption of Jamie's innocence and the process of indoctrination, so it's less concerned with the whos and whats and wheres and whys, but ultimately that's just not enough. I want to know how they were finally caught, and I don't think it would hurt the indoctrination content for us to find out. But the real problem with this movie are the numerous instances where you just can't tell what's going on. There's a fine line to walk between giving your audience puzzles to figure out and being so obscure that they can't figure them out, which quickly leads to not caring about finding out, and by extension not caring about the film or the people in it. Not to mention that I don't see any reason why this couldn't have been 30 minutes shorter, which also would have engendered a lot more goodwill.
The performances are good--apparently there are only two professional actors in the cast--and Daniel Henshall as John does a nice job or retaining a slight, menacing smile on his face the entire time, even as he's obviously seething with contempt.
Today I read other reviews of this film on IMDb and others also found it confusing, and refer us to read more about the case or watch a documentary before seeing it, as a lot of key information is left out of the film--for example, that the murders were going on for seven years, not the new months as portrayed in the movie. But my feeling usually is that we're reviewing the movie and ONLY what is in the movie, and on that basis I think the film falls a bit flat. It's not awful, but there is another similar Australian Movie out there about a young man being drawn into a group of killers--Animal Kingdom--that is well-done but also has sharply defined characters and makes sense all the way through and is much more dramatically compelling. Watch that one, read the Wiki article about this one. I suspect you'll be happier.
If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn't.